As a criminal defense lawyer, I often receive frantic calls. A family member was just hauled away by the cops, or the news just said the caller has been indicted, or the police are at the door with a search warrant. But one call gave me pause: "The sheriff is on his way to my house," sobbed the woman on the phone, "and he's going to arrest me unless I pay the debt collector. What should I do?"
In January, I received a frantic call from "Mariel" (a pseudonym), a Latina U.S. citizen who does not speak, read or write English well—a situation generally called limited English proficient (LEP).
Kevin, a fourth-grader, was in the school playground on a climbing wall when Dillon, his classmate, accused him of "snitching" that Dillon had brought a BB gun to school. Kevin said he hadn't done that, but Dillon pushed him, threatened him and prevented him from climbing down the wall.
"He hit me. He tried to choke me. Last week, he raped me twice in one night while my kids were at home," Maria (pseudonym) told me. He was the father of her children and the adverse party in one of my first domestic violence cases.
I used to say that my former position as a public defender was one big, full-time community service project. Sure, I was (barely) paid for the work and I was providing an honorable service to those in need, but still something was missing. The representation of a client occurs during only a snapshot of a person's life.
A few months back, I realized I would have two free months before the start of a new job in the consulting sector. Having been to law school and practiced as an attorney (albeit corporate law, but I am told it still counts), I decided to dedicate some time toward the field of public interest. Fortunately for me, the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation welcomed me on board as a two-month volunteer attorney.
Do you remember how it felt the first time you got high off of the law? Maybe it was the first time you argued a case before a jury. The first time you wrote a strongly worded demand letter. Maybe it was a big settlement you negotiated. Do you remember that feeling of being untouchable, exhilarated and scared out of your mind but wanting more?