One Volunteer’s Story: “I wanted to give her hope.”

Ha Pham has been volunteering at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation for the past several weeks. Not only has she been tremendously helpful to to Cole Thaler and the Saturday Lawyer Program, she’s made a huge impact on the lives of our clients – and she learned something about herself in the process.

Tell us about yourself! What path led you to the practice of law and to Atlanta?

I immigrated to the United States as a young child. Living in the Atlanta area is the first memory I have as a child. As an immigrant family, we had nothing. We relied on charitable organizations and kind strangers to help us along the way. My family was always moving around looking for better opportunities and a way out of poverty — and sometimes we moved because we didn’t have a choice. I ended up in California and went to school and began practicing law there. My parents couldn’t afford to live there anymore and when they sent me off to college, they moved back to Georgia. I followed suit, returning to Georgia to be closer to family and take care of my father who passed away from cancer.

Volunteer attorney Ha Pham

Volunteer attorney Ha Pham

What led you to volunteer with AVLF? Why do you think working on behalf of low-income clients is important?

I started to volunteer at AVLF for selfish reasons. I needed to restart my legal career after being away from it for eight years due to my own cancer diagnosis. I thought what better way to get some experience than by helping others. So I came in as a volunteer for the Saturday Lawyer Program. Without any resources and never practicing in Georgia, I didn’t feel comfortable taking on any cases even though I was an experienced litigator. I had no office and no support staff. I figured one day of screening clients won’t kill me.

But during my screening that day, I met with Ms. Jones. She was crying and distressed and frazzled. She explained that drug dealers were running her apartment complex and her living conditions made her a prisoner in her own home. She had suffered a trauma to the point where she started to question her own sanity. I knew what that felt like from my own personal experience from growing up in poverty, and from going through trauma. I wanted to give her hope to move on from her horrible experience, and to feel like she had some control over her life and the power to make it better with a little help. I waited to see if any other attorney was going to take her case because I thought it would be better for her to get somebody with Georgia experience. When nobody responded, I stepped up because I knew that this moment would affect how she viewed the rest of her life. I wrote a letter, made a phone call, and exchanged some emails, and changed somebody’s life for the better. That is the amazing gift and power that my career has given me.

What would you say to an attorney who is not sure whether he or she should take on a pro bono case?

For any attorney out there that is on the fence about taking on a case, I would tell them to make the leap and change a life. A simple letter or phone call is sometimes all they need. If you don’t have resources or experience, AVLF provides wonderful support, guidance, and work space. For new attorneys out there, this is a wonderful way to start a career, and spread positivity. If you have just a day, come in for a Saturday Lawyer Day screening.