A letter from Saturday Lawyer Program Staff Attorney, Erica Taylor.
A few months ago, I placed a case with a young volunteer lawyer. The client was in a property completely covered in toxic mold, and the landlord would not do anything to fix it.
The volunteer agreed to assist our client in negotiating repairs. But shortly after the lawyer signed on to the case, our client was served with an eviction.
The young lawyer was nervous. She had never handled an eviction, and she wasn’t sure if she could do it.
She was nervous because although law school teaches you to think like a lawyer – logically and analytically – it doesn’t teach you everything. Most lawyers learn how to practice by observing and by doing.
If you work in a large firm after law school, you benefit from the combined experience of all the other lawyers around you, but it may be years before you see the inside of a courtroom. Conversely, if you work in a small firm (or go out on your own), you get a lot of experience very quickly, but not a lot of guidance.
When a young lawyer does pro bono work, it helps fill in those experience gaps.
I gave her a pep talk and let her know that even though this became a different kind of case than she expected, she could do it, and AVLF would be there to support her.
Our young volunteer lawyer was nervous, yes, but I knew that she could do it. I gave her a pep talk and let her know that although this became a different kind of case than she expected, she could do it – and AVLF would be there to support her. I answered her questions. I provided her with information on the law. I connected her with an expert witness to testify to the mold in the property. I also offered to go to court with her.
The Saturday Lawyer Program is unique in that it provides new lawyers with the kind of control over a case that a solo attorney might have, but also gives you the kind of backup that you would get in a firm setting.
Now that I run the Saturday Lawyer Program, I see it as a privilege and an honor to pass on those kinds of skills and lessons to other young lawyers.
A lot of my greatest triumphs and biggest lessons learned were born out of cases that I took through AVLF. Because of the skills that I learned by taking cases through the Saturday Lawyer Program, the partners at my firm trusted me to take on bigger roles in cases. It is no exaggeration to say that volunteering had a profoundly positive effect on my professional career.
Because of the skills that I learned by taking cases through the Saturday Lawyer Program, the partners at my firm trusted me to take on bigger roles in cases.
On the day of the hearing, as fate would have it, I ended up with two different volunteer lawyers in two different courtrooms both asking for assistance. I was only able to sneak in and sit in the audience when it was time for the hearing. But it didn’t matter. The lawyer did amazingly well. The judge found in favor of the client and the eviction was dismissed.
We walked outside the courtroom doors and waited for the order. The client was on the verge of tears. She thanked the volunteer profusely. The lawyer was also on the verge of tears. I looked at her and I asked her what was going on. She said “that was my first win.” It was truly amazing to be a part of that moment. The kinds of moments that make lawyers.
Our executive director likes to say that we have two clients – there are the low-income clients that we serve, and there are also the attorneys we guide and that we provide with opportunities. Nothing could be truer. Because not only do attorneys get to hone their skills – they also get to help make things go right for a person who otherwise may not have any other options.