Volunteer Lawyer Profiles: Making a Difference
The Truancy Intervention Project is proud to highlight the volunteer efforts of Ms. Jennifer Thomas, a volunteer attorney with the law firm of Jones Day LLP. Jennifer has been a volunteer with TIP since 2010 and has represented seven clients as a TIP attorney. Originally from Atlanta, Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University. Ms. Thomas received her law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. while serving as managing editor of the Howard Law Journal. After returning to Atlanta, Ms. Thomas began looking for ways to use her newly acquired legal skills to give back to her native city. She found TIP through the recruiting efforts of TIP board member and Jones Day partner, Rick Deane, and 2011 Volunteer of the Year winner, Tasheika Hinson, formerly Jones Day LLP.
"I have always worked with kids, and when I heard about TIP, it just seemed like a natural fit," said Jennifer. "I really love that I am able to use my legal skills and help children and the community at the same time."
"Jennifer is an ideal volunteer; she is dependable, detail-oriented and very dedicated to the children and families of Metro Atlanta," notes Jessica P. Pennington, the Executive Director of Truancy Intervention Project Georgia.
A corporate attorney with a focus on banking and finance, Ms. Thomas has spent time inside and outside of the courtroom successfully advocating for her clients. Her very first case involved a client who had suffered through a sexual assault. Ms. Thomas expertly brought all parties together and was able to get the truancy case dismissed and her client back on the right track. After more than a year of the case being dismissed, Ms. Thomas is still involved with her client. This summer Ms. Thomas helped her client get a job at a dance studio close to her school with the hopes that her client would be able to continue her employment during the school year.
Ms. Thomas is an avid recruiter for TIP and has taken over duties as TIP's Jones Day Liason, helping to cultivate and mentor volunteers within Jones Day. We applaud Jennifer for her dedication to TIP and more importantly the children and families of the city she calls home.
Anne Myers has been practicing law for over 25 years. Currently, she practices in her own firm located in Peachtree City, Georgia. She is a trained mediator and arbitrator. Over the years, she has clerked in the federal courts, worked in government agencies, practiced in large law firms, and provided in-house representation to local companies.
Her true passion is assisting low-income clients in family law cases - especially those clients who would not otherwise be able to afford an attorney and have a fair shot at justice as a result. She has demonstrated this passion through her committed delivery of pro bono services to low income Georgians through the Georgia Legal Services Program pro bono project. Myers believes that "as lawyers, we have a duty to use our talents and knowledge to help those who cannot get access to legal help. If all lawyers would just commit to taking a few cases a year, we could vastly improve the legal system in this country." Her willingness to accept complex pro bono cases and her zealous advocacy always exceeds the call of duty.
Myers has been accepting pro bono cases from GLSP since 2007. Over the past five years, she has accepted nearly 30 pro bono cases referred by GLSP. She has completed extensive pro bono work from other referral networks as well. Her work typically focuses on assisting victims of domestic violence and their children in emotional and contested family law cases. Her clients frequently comment on the high quality representation Myers provides and her hard work to ensure that all families have access to a lawyer. Thanks to Ms. Myers' work, many more women, children, and families in Georgia are safer and able to live in households free of violence.
As Assistant General Counsel of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., Rick McMurtry oversees trademark, advertising, and domain matters for Turner brands such as CNN, Cartoon Network, and TCM, Turner Classic Movies.
What sets Rick apart from many of his in-house peers is his strong commitment to pro bono work. "I enjoy being able to help charitable organizations and work with a varied number of clients with various interests and people," says Rick.
Through the Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, Rick has dedicated his time and talents to complete twenty pro bono projects for nonprofit organizations in Atlanta on issues ranging from trademark registration and infringement to domain name protection. Nonprofits that have benefited from Rick's legal assistance include Enchanted Closet, which provides prom dresses to low-income girls, and Positive Impact, which helps those that have been diagnosed with HIV. Jill Robbins of Soccer in the Streets, a current pro bono client of Rick's, says, "he is eager to share his knowledge and makes it his mission to protect the interests of his pro bono clients."
As Rachel Spears, Executive Director of Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta states, "As head of the trademarks group at Turner Broadcasting, Rick brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the pro bono matters he takes. But beyond that, he shares his personal brand of kindness and humor that puts the client at ease."
Rick graduated from Belmont University in 1991 and then studied at Vanderbilt University School of Law where he served as Senior Student Writing Editor of the Law Review. Following law school, he was honored to serve as a judicial clerk for Judge Robert Echols with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Prior to joining Turner, he worked in private practice at Howrey & Simon in Washington D.C., and Powell, Goldstein, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Our March 2012 Volunteer of the Month can be found on the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation Blog. John Seay, of the Seay Firm, recounts his ongoing pro bono service on behalf of a man with a disability who is seeking from his landlord an accommodation for his disability. Seay's pro bono service story is found here.
When it comes to pro bono and access to justice, small-city lawyers have a unique perspective. They understand the demand for pro bono services from a solo and small firm angle. And as solos and small firm practitioners, they are frequently called upon to help in their communities. In a small town, there are no high-rise building elevators or security desks to separate a lawyer from people with critical legal needs who can't afford a lawyer.
December's Volunteer Lawyer of the Month is a very accessible lawyer in a small firm outside Atlanta: Michael Geoffroy.
Michael is a partner in the firm LaMalva, Geoffroy & Oeland, PC in Covington and Conyers, Georgia where he handles estate planning, corporations and civil litigation matters. Prior to joining the firm, Michael served as Corporate Counsel at Telrite and as an associate at Moulton & Tarrer in Conyers, Georgia.
A graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, Geoffroy has become a leader at the state and local bar levels. In 2011, Geoffroy was included in the Georgia Trend Magazine's Legal Elite for General Practice. He is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division, a position which he used to promote legal aid, pro bono and access to justice causes. He serves as a volunteer lawyer for Georgia Legal Services Program, but his work on "the bigger picture"-helping to increase awareness of the need for better funding and other support for legal services programs -provides a great model for other lawyers and law firms.
"Michael's support for the work of Georgia Legal Services is broad and deep, and started when he got involved with disaster legal assistance with GLSP, a program the State Bar YLD has supported for over 15 years. He understands and shares our commitment to justice for all, and has made pro bono work a priority for his law firm," says Phyllis Holmen, GLSP's Executive Director. "Michael talks often and in public about how doing pro bono work has been a life-changing event for him."
In March 2011, under Geoffroy' s leadership, the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division dedicated its annual fundraiser to Georgia Legal Services. The purpose of the annual Signature Fundraiser is to raise funds to support a non-profit selected by the YLD's board of directors. This year, the fundraiser raised more than $45,000 to support Georgia Legal Services' mission to provide free legal assistance to low-income Georgians.
The November Volunteer Lawyer of the Month profile is usually dedicated to an individual attorney who is making significant contributions to access to justice through a strong commitment to pro bono legal services or perhaps for dedication to developing legal aid or pro bono delivery systems.
November's Volunteer of the Month is not an individual attorney, but a collection of talented and dedicated professionals: the State Bar of Georgia General Practice and Trial Law Section.
In each of the past two years, the General Practice and Trial Law Section has hosted a statewide Ask a Lawyer Day. The free statewide advice clinic program is aimed at providing help to local low-income families and senior citizens. The General Practice and Trial Law Section partners with Georgia Legal Services Program and the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project in hosting the event.
The Section event has served hundreds of low-income Georgians, and importantly, the Section leadership is carrying the message of service and professionalism to its members. The project is a wonderful model for replication by other state and local bar sections and committees.
The pro bono event is the brainchild of Valdosta attorney, William "Pope" Langdale, the former Chair of the State Bar General Practice and Trial Law Section. "The General Practice and Trial Law Section of the State Bar is comprised of attorneys from all corners of our state, with diverse practices ranging from consumer law to criminal law, and domestic relations to personal injury. As such, our Section is often referred to as Georgia's largest law firm," says Pope.
The clinic's locations and legal topics may vary from year to year, but most lawyers who participate come back to help.
"This event offers a great opportunity for volunteers to take part in the solution on a very local level, says Phyllis Holmen, Executive Director of Georgia Legal Services Program. "We're very grateful to all the volunteers who stepped up to meet some new clients!"
A retired Colonel in the U.S Army, Fred Bryant served in numerous leadership and staff jobs in the Infantry and the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He was the Senior Legal Advisor for U.S. Army Special Operations Command, XVIII Airborne Corps, U.S. Southern Command, and the Army Component for U.S. Central Command. His overseas service included tours in Korea, Central and South America, and the Middle East/ Southwest Asia. From January 2004 until June 2006, he served as the Deputy Executive Director and Counsel for the Governor's Military Affairs Coordinating Committee (GMACC).
In 2005 Fred began missing the courtroom and started investigating pro bono opportunities that might get him back in front of a judge. He came upon information on the Truancy Intervention Project Georgia ("TIP") and was inspired by its mission to prevent school failure through juvenile court advocacy. He attended TIP's training seminar and signed on to accept a case. Now, six years and 58 children later Fred is a regular figure in Judge Juliette Scales' courtroom and a frequent speaker on behalf of TIP. He was awarded the Glenda Hatchett Volunteer of the Year Award in 2006 and continues to annually perform over 100 hours of Pro Bono work with TIP.
In addition to his exceptional work on behalf of many at-risk Atlanta youth, Bryant has served on the United Way Advisory Board for Clayton, Butts and Henry Counties and the Regional Commission on Homelessness since 2009. He has been a volunteer on the Community Impact Fund Assessment Teams for two years.
"Fred is just one of those rare people who commit fully and faithfully," says executive director Jessica Pennington, "if he says he'll show up and do something, he does. Always. We are grateful he has chosen TIP and our clients are all the better for his work."
Since 1990, while a law student at Georgia State University, Robert (Bob) Dow has been involved with the work of the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless. Currently, he is a partner in the Securities and Corporate Governance Practice Group at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, as well as the pro bono chair for the firm.
While in law school, as a volunteer with the Law Center, Bob would conduct legal outreach at two different homeless service providers. Once he joined AGG, in 1992, he worked with the then pro bono chair and the Law Center to set up a partnership program between the two which would involve attorneys from AGG accompanying Law Center staff to various shelters to conduct outreach. As Bob said, "by coordinating the program with other attorneys, (he) can leverage (his) efforts and increase the number of people who can be reached."
In the 20-plus years that he has been involved with the Law Center, Bob estimates that he has exposed over 100 other attorneys and summer associates to the work of the Law Center. He feels that "all attorneys have a professional responsibility to provide pro bono service." He credits that involvement of others as part of his motivation. Additionally, he says he also enjoys "experiencing a sense that we are able to help people."
As Holly Z, a paralegal advocate at the Law Center states, "Bob has been an incredibly dedicated volunteer and is passionate about the work of the Law Center. Having him and AGG involved with the Law Center has been a great asset to us and our clients."
Atlanta Legal Aid Society volunteer, Melissa J. Perignat, opens the courthouse door for low-income metro-Atlantans.
Perignat reports that around year three of her legal career as a litigator at Holt Ney Zatcoff & Wasserman, LLP, an "honored" firm title was passed down to her by a more senior associate -- she became the "dispossessory queen." What responsibilities and honors came with that crown? She says she did not receive a jeweled briefcase or Alexander McQueen designer suit, and she is not shuttled to the courthouse by horse-drawn carriage. Rather, she became the go-to litigator at her firm to handle commercial dispossessory cases on behalf of clients who owned shopping centers, office buildings, warehouses and other rental properties. In every dispossessory case, her objective was eviction -- winning meant retaking possession of leased premises from a commercial tenant, typically a business entity, which had failed to pay rent or had breached some non-monetary provision of its lease.
After running into Sarah Cipperly, a law school classmate and the current Director of the Cobb Justice Foundation (a program of Atlanta Legal Aid's Cobb office), Perignat decided to see what it was like on the other side of a dispossessory case, and volunteered to provide pro bono legal services to residential tenants facing dispossessory actions filed by their landlords. Cipperly, thrilled to have her classmate on board, says, "Volunteers like Melissa have a huge impact to our clients. Our pro bono program relies heavily on the initiative and dedication of individual lawyers looking to make a difference."
"In the pro bono cases I have handled since, I did not have to deliver a riveting oral argument, write a flawless brief or intimidate opposing counsel," Perignat says. "All I had to do was listen to my clients, explain their rights, manage their expectations and help them navigate the judicial process. My time and presence were undoubtedly just as valuable (if not more) as my legal advice."
Perignat's experience on the other side of dispossessory cases has given her a valuable new perspective on dispossessory law and the shear power and benefit of legal representation. "Building on a 1920's quote from a British judge (as my firm's reigning dispossessory queen, I could not resist throwing in a British quote), 'Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel,' but it only takes a few hours of an attorney's time to slip past the doorman and help someone in need find a little justice.
Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta is proud to select Jared Brandman of The Coca-Cola Company as Volunteer Attorney of the Month for July. Jared has represented 13 different nonprofit organizations through Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta over the last five years.
"By getting involved in pro bono work, I am not only privileged to meet so many amazing men and women that provide such valuable services, goods and support to people in need, but also to help ensure that these charitable organizations are appropriately structured and benefit from best practice corporate governance policies and procedures," Jared said.
An alumnus of Emory Law School, Jared moved to Atlanta from New York in 2005 and joined Paul Hastings. Since joining The Coca-Cola Company in September 2010, Jared has continued to emphasize a personal and corporate commitment to community development through his pro bono work:
"To borrow from The Coca-Cola Company, pro bono work is one way to Live Positively(TM), which is a commitment my company has made, a commitment I have made and a commitment I believe we all should make, to make a positive difference in the world. The Coca-Cola Company's legal department takes its commitment to pro bono work very seriously, and I look forward to continue my pro bono efforts for many years to come through Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta and other organizations."
Thomas F. Richardson, a graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, has been a member of the State Bar of Georgia since 1975.
Richardson is a volunteer attorney with Georgia Legal Services Program's Macon Regional Office. He has handled consumer law matters on a pro bono basis for GLSP. In 2010-11, Richardson donated over 150 hours of pro bono service in a complex matter on behalf of an elderly couple seeking redress against a major financial institution.
Richardson is a partner in the Macon office of Chambless Higdon Richardson Katz & Griggs, LLP.
He received the H. Sol Clark Pro Bono Award from the State Bar of Georgia in June 2011.