by Alicia Hernandez
Lisa Blue Chris Hamilton
There but for the grace of God go I. This is a phrase we hear people say all the time, and it encapsulates the uncertainty of our world—a world where we can work hard, lead a healthy life, try to do all the right things, but still hard times befall us.
Many would be hard pressed to say that quote never passed their minds when working with someone less fortunate, who lost a job, whose spouse left them, or someone struggling with health problems or addiction. The list goes on.
This phrase was at the forefront of one volunteer attorney’s mind when she represented “Maria” years ago in her child custody case.
Maria was a good mother. She loved her kids, and she did her best to take care of them. Even though her lifestyle was very limited, she had a roof over her children’s heads, food on the table, and her children were good students.
Maria seemed to have the deck stacked against her from the beginning. She was poor. She was severely abused throughout her life by her father, her brothers, and her boyfriends. And, although she had graduated from high school and had a job, the years of abuse had taken its toll on her abilities. She did her best, but it was so hard to get ahead.
Maria’s attorney represented her well, preparing fully for trial, and preparing Maria for the worst. Maria, in turn, prepared her children for the worst—the possibility of the family being split up.
Consistent with Maria’s life, the deck seemed stacked against Maria in court, but prayers were answered and hard work paid off, and Maria and her children got to stay together.
Maria’s volunteer attorney, who wishes to remain anonymous, experienced what many volunteers do when doing something for others. She felt she received more from helping Maria than what she had given.
“My experience with Maria helped me practice my trial skills, which was a great opportunity. What I didn’t expect was that it also helped drive home how lucky I am and how grateful I should be for all I have,” she says. “Maria was the first client who really made me think ‘there but for the grace of God, go I.’”
“Maria was born into a family of abusers. I was born into a family of loving, caring people. Maria was taken advantage of by those who should have protected her. My family did everything they could to protect me. Very few, and certainly no one in her family, tried to help Maria. I have been surrounded by supportive and helpful friends and family. Why was I so lucky, and why did Maria have such disadvantages set upon her young, innocent life.”
Many of you will see yourselves in Maria—someone who struggled, persisted, and are where they are today despite the obstacles. Some will see yourselves in our volunteer—loving parents, stability, and opportunities. Some will feel they land somewhere in between—challenges and opportunities—but carrying on just like Maria.
“I am so thankful and really honored that I was able to do something positive for Maria. Her case was a learning experience both personally and professionally,” said our volunteer.
“DVAP is an opportunity we should be very, very proud of,” said Lisa Blue. “It is an opportunity for those of us who have been given the chance or have prevailed despite our circumstances, to help others rise up. It is an opportunity to be touched and to touch the life of another. It is the opportunity to grow professionally by mentoring others, learning about new areas of the law, and getting valuable experience. It is the opportunity to give back through legal service in a way only lawyers can. I am proud to be a part of it.”
“Pro bono work is some of the most important work that we do,” added Chris Hamilton. “It is an opportunity to give back, help those less fortunate, and to ensure access to justice for all. As attorneys, pro bono work through the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program should be one of our top priorities.”
Lisa Blue, of Baron & Blue, and Chris Hamilton, of Standly Hamilton, LLP, are long-time supporters of Equal Access to Justice and the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program.
Because of contributions from donors like Lisa and Chris, the Equal Access to Justice Campaign has surpassed $1.1 million. These contributions are what allows DVAP to continue to assist thousands of clients every year—and provide opportunities for all.