A Voice for the Voiceless
Earlier this month I appeared in the Camden County Superior Court to “put through” a divorce. Putting through a divorce is nothing more than having a judge take testimony and enter a final judgment of divorce. You maybe asking yourself,” What is so blog worthy about putting through a divorce?” The answer is rather simple – nothing. Really, nothing. Our firm puts through several divorces in any given month and in this respect were not unlike many other matrimonial firms. You can go to any county courthouse in New Jersey on any day and see numerous divorces being “put through”. Again you may be asking yourself, “Why is he writing about this every day occurrence and what is so special about it?” What made this divorce unique for me was that client paid our firm nothing for her divorce. That's right not only did she not pay the firm a fee but she did not pay the filing fees or the divorce complaint nor did she pay the sheriff service fee. It almost sounds too good to be true. It is not too good to be true but let me explain. Last year I was attending a Camden County Bar Association meeting where our president, Gary Boguski, (who is also the president of South Jersey Legal Services – “SJLS”) was talking about the cuts in the funding for SJLS. My first a reaction was our Bar Association must do something to help. For some reason on that day I did not share my my initial reaction and thought a little more about the situation. I realized the Bar Association was a group of lawyers in the community like me. As much as the Bar Association could help it was time for me to act. At the end of the meeting I told Mr. Boguski that I would take on a pro bono family law case for SJLS. Mr. Boguski assured me he would hold me to it and that someone from SJLS would be contacting me. Sure enough, within a few days Michelle Williams, Director of Pro Bono Services for SJLS, called me with my very first SJLS pro bono divorce assignment. She told me about SJLS's Private Attorney Involvement Program (PAI) and how assists eligible clients by referring them to private, volunteer attorneys. I've always been a proponent of pro bono service. However, in the past I always waited for the court to assign me a pro bono case and I was never assigned family law or divorce case. What made this case different from the rest was that I actively sought out A pro bono assignment. Over the next several weeks and months I worked on a pro bono case for a woman who made too much money to qualify for legal aid but hardly enough money to pay for a private attorney. The representation of our pro bono client began much the same way any other divorce case began. We interviewed the client, listened to her goals and concerns, and developed a strategy to accomplish her objectives. We were focused on putting her in the best possible financial position at the conclusion of her divorce so that she could move on with her life. I am happy to report we were able to complete a property settlement agreement, file the complaint, and put through her divorce. The feeling that you get when you help somebody who is not a position to help themselves is truly remarkable. At the conclusion of my representation I thought back to when I was in law school. I went to law school because I wanted to speak for those that did not have a voice. Unfortunately, it didn't take me long after law school to figure out that those moments are few and far between and certainly do not come often enough. By volunteering for SJLS I'm effectively creating my own opportunities to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. My experience in the PAI program was so positive that I contacted Michelle and asked her to send me another client who needed a voice. If you or your firm would like to be a voice and get your wonderful feeling, please contact Michelle T. Williams, Esquire, Director of Pro Bono Services and Centralized Intake at SJLS, at (856) 964-2010 ext. 6229 or [email protected].