Guest blogger: Jeri P. Wechsler is general counsel at ZeoGas, LLC in Houston, TX. She can be reached at email@example.com.
My recent experience representing two refugee children, a brother and sister fleeing Guatemala, has given me a constructive outlet for my passion for helping refugees, and the confidence to speak for voiceless children. I can’t right all of the wrongs or change the bad things that happen in the world, but in large part because of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), I can provide pro bono legal services and support to innocent children who have nothing but hope for a better life.
I am just like every other busy in-house lawyer. A solo with a very thin budget and thick set of responsibilities. I’ve got legal and business-related duties that come with being a co-founder of an energy start-up in a record-low commodity price environment, as well as family life moving at a startling speed.
Before my experience with KIND, I always worried about what would happen if I just dove into pro bono legal work. I worried that I wouldn’t do a good job for clients who really need legal help. I worried that I didn’t have enough time to commit. I worried that because I haven’t tried a case in over a decade, don’t have an admin, and never electronically filed a single pleading (among many other personal and professional concerns), I would be completely adrift.
Over the years, at first as an associate at a law firm, I frequently found myself “volunteered” to do free legal work, typically on matters falling straight down the fairway of my (or a partner’s) daily practice areas. In-house, I infrequently volunteered for group-sponsored pro bono days —wanting to participate, but feeling more than a little hesitant. Overall, I found my own pro bono efforts unsatisfactory.
I admired pro bono superstars who always seem to effortlessly accomplish so much for others. Maybe that is why ACC Houston’s first “Speed Pairing Pro Bono Services” event changed my attitude. I went to the event because it sounded quick and painless, just how I like things. I stayed until the very end. Among the many worthy organizations that need lawyers to provide pro bono services was KIND. An organization whose mission touched me. I also found a connection to an associate at a law firm, and each inspired me to overcome my insecurities and helped me handle a pro bono case. That case has made a difference in the lives of a whole family and in my own.
I was immediately drawn to KIND when I heard about the organization. It provides support and representation to unaccompanied minors who have risked their lives to escape the hideous and unrelenting violence in Central and South America. I also met a talented associate at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, Jill Hale, who was also interested in supporting KIND. We read the story of a 13-year-old boy and his sister, 12, who had fled a lifetime of hardship in Guatemala. KIND was helping them seek unaccompanied juvenile status.
I was impressed with, and appreciated, the level of care and screening that KIND undertook before connecting us with these children, who would ultimately become our clients. The breadth of practical, legal, and moral support KIND provides to its volunteer lawyers every step of the way is impressive.
KIND staff attorney mentors, including Claire Doutre, are constantly available to answer questions, review drafts, provide advice, and share relevant, up-to-date information. KIND mentors hold frequent legal update conference calls for its volunteer lawyers — an opportunity for these lawyers to ask questions and support each other by sharing experiences. KIND also sponsors free topical CLE presentations and a comprehensive library of resources. KIND even helped us translate some documents when needed.
Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has been very supportive of Jill’s pro bono work and also made it possible for an excellent firm paralegal, Sylvia Martinez, who is bilingual, to provide translation and other support to the case. There was nothing I needed that wasn’t provided by this team. We successfully navigated the first part of the process in state court, and now, we are moving toward the final stages and immigration court.
Bottom line, if you feel moved to do something and to make a difference, you can start right now, right where you are. I am not a pro bono superstar by any means, but even my small effort has enriched my life profoundly. Read about KIND and take the plunge: https://supportkind.org
For more information about the ACC Litigation Committee’s pro bono initiative with KIND or to learn how to become a pro bono counsel for a KIND client, please contact ACC Litigation Committee Vice-Chair and Pro Bono Chair Coleman T. Lechner at firstname.lastname@example.org.