Updated: Jan 9
Why they do it and why you should too
Providing pro bono legal services to people in need assures fairness in our justice system. It also provides personal satisfaction, knowing that you are using your legal talents to help your community. Draw inspiration from these women attorneys in action.
A Solo Balances Volunteering with Business
Erika Holmes founded ELHolmes Legal Solutions, LLC – a practice focusing on family law and attorney ethics. She structured her firm around the idea that legal services should be accessible to everyone. The first time she volunteered, she went to the Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL) Legal Clinic at the Denver Indian Center. “I thought, ‘This is why I’m a lawyer.’ I had been really stressed at work and the clinic was the best two hours I had spent in six months.” Erika acknowledges that pro bono work can present some challenges to a solo practitioner. First, when a solo provides services for free, the lack of income impacts them more significantly than it would a firm where the loss of revenue can be spread among multiple lawyers. Second, when clients do not pay for representation, they may have trouble valuing the lawyer’s time, and that again impacts a solo practitioner more significantly when there is only one person’s time to be had. “Yes, there are challenges, but you can still do pro bono work as a solo.” It is important to establish boundaries and balance your volunteer commitment with business. That is why she volunteers at the MVL Post Decree Clinic one Tuesday per month. She believes the intrinsic value of providing service to the community outweighs the amount of time that she is not billing hours for her firm.
A Hogan Lovells Team Fights for a Family of Guatemalan Children
The 2018 Human Rights Watch World Report states that gang-related violence is an important factor prompting people, including unaccompanied youth, to leave Guatemala. At ages 15 and 13, a brother and sister in rural Guatemala (ages 15 & 13) found themselves alone, taking care of their two younger nieces, after their mother died of cancer. Their older siblings already had made the journey to the United States to work and send money to pay for their mother’s treatments, so the four children had nowhere to turn. In addition to being orphaned, the children spoke extremely limited Spanish, and primarily spoke a language called Chalchiteco. They are members of an indigenous community that has been marginalized throughout the history of Guatemala.
On their own, the children experienced violence by gang members, begged for food to survive, and lived in constant fear. They escaped to the United States to join their remaining family. Over months, the children made the 2,000-mile journey by walking, hitching rides, and jumping trains. Their difficult journey did not end there. In the United States, they face a maze of removal and asylum proceedings in a language that they do not understand. That is where the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) and a team of lawyers at Hogan Lovells have stepped in to lead the way.
“The things that are most challenging about these cases are the same things that are the most rewarding,” says Jodi Scott, Hogan Lovells Partner and FDA Regulatory Counsel. “I think that there are a lot of us that went to law school and had notions of grandeur that we would change the world.”
With the generous support of Hogan Lovells, Gina Rodriguez, Jodi Scott, and Alison Toivola took on the cases of all four children. This includes Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) proceedings in state court and before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), removal proceedings in front of the Denver Immigration Court (EOIR), and affirmative asylum proceedings in front of the Denver Immigration Court (EOIR). They received materials from RMIAN, spoke with the children through a chain of Spanish and telephonic Chalchiteco interpreters, hired experts, and appeared at hearings. Their primary motivation is the thought of what might happen to the children if they are forced to return to Guatemala.
Although the cases are complex, the Hogan Lovells team reflects on the experience saying that the rewards outweigh the risks. They encourage other lawyers to follow suit. “If you take it on, you will figure it out,” says Gina Rodriguez, Litigation Partner at Hogan Lovells. “We often hear from young lawyers that it is difficult to get real world and first chair opportunities. These cases present that opportunity, even in a big law firm environment, while helping to make a difference at the same time.”
Veronique Van Gheem is Senior Assistant Legal Counsel for the Colorado Judicial Department. Ms. Van Gheem works in the Executive Division of the State Court Administrator’s Office providing general advisory counsel for the Colorado courts, probation departments and the State Court Administrator. She is a Chair of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Publication Committee. She is also a member of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee, the CBA Spanish Speaking Lawyers Committee and a Lead Attorney for the Project Safeguard Spanish-speaking Family Law Clinic. Any views or opinions reflected in this publication do not reflect the position of the Colorado Office of the State Court Administrator or the Colorado Judicial Department.