It was close to noon and he was so hungry, he was ready to eat his desk. Jim was looking forward to having lunch with a couple of his law partners at their usual hangout. A burrito sounded good today. And he needed a break from all the documents he was reviewing from a discovery request on a complex litigation case he was going to be trying in a few weeks.
Alas, the darn phone rang. He could see on the caller ID it was someone important from the domestic violence community, so he picked it up.
“Do you have a few minutes?” the caller asked. “I have someone here who needs help.”
“Of course,” Jim said, ignoring his growling stomach. “What’s up?”
The caller proceeded to say her client had two children who had been taken by their father to another country three years ago. The client tried to get legal help, but had no money, so everyone told her there was nothing they could do for her.
“Can you just meet her and listen to her story?”
His stomach heard him say, “Send her over,” and growled again. He told his partners he would not be at lunch because he was meeting with a pro bono domestic relations client. They looked at him like he was from Mars and shrugged.
A bus ride later, an incredibly talkative, energetic woman named Tracy appeared in his office with a 1970’s style, plastic-molded Samsonite briefcase. He invited her into his office. She was nervous and shaky as she took in the glamour of his surroundings, including the view over the Detroit River to Windsor.
Tracy placed her briefcase on his new Mahogany desk and slid it across the surface, making a long scratch. He grimaced.
But as her story unfolded, he forgot about his hungry stomach, the scratch and the documents he had reviewed that morning. From her briefcase she produced photographs of her bruised back, from when she had been beaten with a belt during her pregnancy, rejection letters from other lawyers saying they couldn’t help her and a judgment affording her specific parenting time with her children – parenting time she had not been able to exercise in three years because the children had been taken to another country.
He listened silently for more than an hour. When she finally finished her story, he agreed to take her case pro bono.
Several weeks later, as he drove back to the office from his complex litigation trial in another county, his cell phone rang. His paralegal told him the father from his pro bono case had been picked up at customs entering the country and was being held for parental kidnapping at the county jail. He detoured to the jail and asked as a condition of release that the children be returned to the United States.
Within about one week, he found himself standing at the international arrival gate at Detroit Metropolitan Airport with Tracy, who was carrying a bouquet of balloons and stuffed animals. They waited with anticipation as passenger after passenger disembarked. Finally, when her children exited the gate, she jumped up and down and shouted for joy – the definition of elated. She hugged and squeezed them like she would never let them go.
Jim took the children’s passports as the court had ordered him to do.
Later, in his car, Jim smiled, laughed and then called his wife to tell her he wanted to take their kids to the zoo after school that day.
He never had the scratch on his desk fixed – on purpose.
There are hundreds of stories out there just like this one, waiting to happen. Need a little meaning in your life? Need to feel appreciated? Volunteer to take a pro bono case now, in celebration of Pro Bono Month!
Here is the link to volunteer: http://www.michbar.org/programs/atj/probono_volunteer. If you practice a specific area of law, do not be dissuaded. You will get the help you need to do the necessary work. You will be glad you did, even if it means missing lunch.
Lori is a shareholder at Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg, & Solomon, P.C.