As I traveled throughout the state of New Mexico over the past several months, I had the opportunity to speak with many people who felt that hope is not necessarily a word that they feel they can rely upon. But, with each person I visited, and in each location, my mantra has been the same, “Don’t give up hope. Trust in attorneys, because they are like the cavalry; they will line up to help and restore hope.”
My journey led me to the western part of our state, where I joined two Native women at a local Chapter House—a communal meeting place on various reservations and tribal lands where residents meet to discuss issues and express their opinions—in what was to be a presentation about advancing economic security for women in challenging times. When I arrived, there was a line of people, not waiting to hear my presentation, but who had legal problems affecting their daily lives and serving as a barrier to the joys of live. The issues ranged from having purchased automobiles that had basic costs of about $20,000, but by the time the outrageous financing terms and payments schedules were completed, the families were paying about $75,000 for their automobile purchases, spread over a 10-year period. It should be pointed out that very few cars have a successful life after their 7th year.
I also encounter a woman who lived on property that was outside of her reservation and in an unincorporated area where she had no internet service. She could not connect to the rest of the world without traveling a great distance to do so. It became apparent to me that any of the 1.3 million attorneys in the United States could help this woman negotiate a contract for internet service in her area.
When I consider that between 1970 and 2017 ABA law schools conferred just over 1.8 million law degrees and state bars issued more than 2.2 million lawyer licenses, there was someone with the ability to write a contract that would allow cable to past through the land for internet service, or help families negotiate an interest rate on their automobiles that were fair and just. I saw an opportunity for lawyers to work collaboratively applying pro bono hours to help those in our communities where legal aid groups are prohibited from helping or do not have the personnel to help.
I have encountered no less than three organizations that have lost their non-profit status because they lacked a good understanding of the intricacies of required reports and filings to ensure their nonprofit status is protected. An attorney, using their state’s pro bono hour requirements, could step in and help train the staff on IRS requirements so their organizations could maintain their nonprofit status. It is crucial for organizations to maintain their non-profit status because the work of these organizations help fill gaps in services for women, low-income individuals, and vulnerable populations that governments cannot or will not provide. By taking steps to help others in need, like the people I encountered, I saw a rainbow of ways that attorneys can use pro bono hours to help build an America of We, Us, and Ours, constructed by attorneys.
My journey led me to I encounter a woman who had been on the waiting list for subsidized housing for over two years. She kept wondering how she could move up on the list, and I did too. My first thought was that the key to her problems was that there were people in decision making positions who simply did not care about her issues. We needed to vote people into office who cared more about the issues she faced, but the question became would she face issues getting to vote.
On election night I served as a challenger, observing issues that voters encountered when they tried to vote. The most prevalent issue that I saw causing people to cast a provisional ballot was that they had registered to vote one week before the election or they were trying to vote in a county where they did not reside. I don’t know if that woman voted, but I did help her look for loopholes and ways to move up on the subsidized housing list. Before the election, she was finally given the subsidized housing she had been waiting patiently to receive. An attorney—and in this case, me—helped build an America of We, Us, and Ours around the issue of housing.
We as lawyers are a group of people who can tell stories that can inspire other lawyers to use their talents and skills to help build a country of we, us, and ours who can share in the great wealth of this country. The victories are not just ours as the attorneys who are helping others but are the victories of the people in our communities.
Pro bono work is for the brave. It includes some sacrifice and is for those who are not afraid to fight for justice. My travels have led me to inspire pro bono work and be an inspiring lawyer.
This article originally appeared on Forbes