Thursday, September 4, 2014

Diversity Committee: The Benefits Of Pro Bono Work

By Victoria Cruz-Garcia

So many times we hear about how pro bono work gives us the benefit of feeling good about what we do and provides us with an opportunity to explore a new area of law. The truth of the matter is that very seldom do lawyers want to venture out of their comfort zone, preferring to take on pro bono cases in their areas of practice. Their reasoning makes sense. First, if they know what they are doing, they can obtain better results for the client. Second, if they are well versed in the area of law, the resolution of the case will take less time, which will allow the lawyer to get back to his or her billable work sooner. However, for those who take a chance and actually venture out of their comfort zone, the rewards are many.

Imagine that you are a 20-year-old single mom. When you were 14, you moved to another home to live with your mother and new stepfather. You were then raped repeatedly by your stepfather until you got pregnant. At 15, you gave birth to a boy as a result of this rape. Once the baby was born, DNA supported what you knew all along, that your stepfather was the child’s biological father. Your stepfather was arrested and took a plea deal. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison, but his parental rights were not terminated. You moved to another county, determined to put this behind you. Four years later, you learned that in less than a year, your stepfather is scheduled to be released and has already boasted to family members that, when he is released, he desires to come and visit his only son. He has told everyone in your family that he fully intends to exercise his parental rights. You are desperately seeking an attorney but cannot afford one. You need a legal advocate to come in and move to terminate the parental rights of your rapist so that you can move on and your son will never know how he was conceived, but instead how much you love him.

Sound a bit extreme? Not really; this was one of my recent pro bono cases. Knowing very little about juvenile dependency, every document, hearing, and process was a challenge. One of the most satisfying days of my career was when I heard the judge state in open court that it was in the manifest best interests of the minor child to terminate the parental rights of my client’s rapist. As my client and I walked down the courthouse hall beaming, while others just casually looked at us, I thought: If every lawyer actually knew what a difference this decision made in my client’s life, everyone would take on a pro bono case today!

Not only will the work be satisfactory, but also through your work and dedication to causes that you believe in, you will have the opportunity to meet judges and lawyers in a different area of law who may assist with your own practice in the future.