Celebrating 20 Years: Jeff Woods
Jeff Woods is a Legal Aid of WV pro bono volunteer and owner of The Law Office of Jeff C. Woods in Teays Valley, WV.
Why is the concept of “justice for all” so important in our legal system?
The concept of “justice for all” is immensely important in our legal system for the simple reason that we, as a society of diverse individuals, must ensure we adhere to and honor the promises of equality and fairness. One of the underlying goals of which lead to the founding of our nation was the elimination of the injustices tied to position and class. I am still moved by the fact that Thurgood Marshall, while arguing Brown v. Board of Education, passed beneath the inscription over the door of the United States Supreme Court which reads “Equal Justice Under the Law for All.” In short, without “justice for all” our system is and will be an absolute failure.
What are the beliefs or values that underpin your support for Legal Aid of WV?
The beliefs and values which underpin my support for Legal Aid of West Virginia are simple, personal, and immense in depth. First, I am grateful for all of the sacrifices so many made so that I could have a chance to develop the gifts with which some believe I have been endowed. Firmly believing that no one can survive and advance alone, I feel a need to “share with others that with which I have been entrusted.” Also, I have been taught to believe that we all have a duty to leave this world a little better than it was when we arrived. I have found that supporting Legal Aid of West Virginia helps to bring me closer to that goal.
What would our communities and courts look like if Legal Aid of WV didn’t exist?
I firmly believe our courts would “look like” an uncaring and unjust farce of a legal system, if Legal Aid of West Virginia did not exist. Legal Aid of West Virginia has and continues to ensure that the statement “equal justice under the law has meaning.” In order to meaningfully seek and acquire the same, individuals need legal representation. Thus, those who cannot afford a lawyer would be required to navigate a complex system alone. As we all know, one who represents themselves has a fool for a client and an idiot for a lawyer. Legal Aid helps to ensure all can have meaningful access to the courts!
When you think of Legal Aid of WV, what words or phrases come to your mind?
When I think of Legal Aid, the thoughts and phrases which come to my mind are “returns on social investments; justice regardless of economic status; opportunities to be meaningfully heard; pursuit of equality under the law; equal access to the courts; and fairness.”
You are one of Legal Aid of West Virginia’s longest serving and most loyal pro bono volunteers. Given that you’re a 28 year veteran, can you tell us why you’re so committed to pro bono service? Is there anything you think other WV attorneys should know about working as a Legal Aid pro bono volunteer?
Sincerely, it is my mother’s wisdom and statements which are the foundation of my commitment to Legal Aid of West Virginia. As I was reared in Greenbrier County, my mother reminded me that my legal education and abilities were “a gift from God.” She instilled in me the belief that any failure to properly use it, would result in God removing it from me and my life.” She made me promise to use this gift and my love for the law to help those who may find themselves in less fortunate situations. Listening to and honoring the promises she required me to make to her, continue to drive my life, ministry, and the practice of law. Legal Aid has proven to be a wonderful conduit for achieving the goals and standards my mother wisely set for me. I am one who believes that working as a Pro Bono volunteer is a great way to hone one’s skills while helping others and contributing to the growth of society. In the process, we can use our life experiences to ensure the goals of our legal system are advanced and achieved.
Furthermore, pro bono is something I like doing, and I feel obligated to do it. There are some debts that you can’t pay with money.
How did your relationship with Legal Aid of WV begin, and how has it continued?
I was at Jackson Kelly at the time I took my first case with Legal Aid of WV.
John McClaugherty at Jackson Kelly did a lot of community work, and through him, I learned a very simple concept: if you take care of your community, your community will take care of you.
I am not sure how exactly it came to be, but I was asked to do a pro bono case, and I got the approval from the firm. I worked that case, and I realized that would satisfy that need I had to give back to others. It was a real, personal need for me because my mother had always made me promise I would use what she called my God-given gift to help other people.
Once I started doing it, I just kept doing it. I had an agreement with the Pro Bono staff at LAWV that they would only send me a case or two at a time, and that agreement started a regular flow of cases I handled. I had a great time doing it and learned a lot in the process.
In addition to cases straight from Legal Aid, I oftentimes ran across people that needed an attorney, and I would say to them, “Go to Legal Aid of WV. If you qualify, just tell them I’ll take your case.”
Legal Aid approved many of those cases and sent them my way, and it felt good all the way around. I really appreciated that Legal Aid was willing to allow me to help our community in that way.