Celebrating 20 Years – Molly Russell
Why is the concept of justice for all so important to our legal system?
When the legal system was first created, it was geared for the benefit of white men who owned property. This was not fair. Period. End of story. Justice for all is the great equalizer if followed as intended.
How did you come to work at Legal Aid?
I first came to Legal Aid as a PIA fellow during the summer of 2012. From the time I graduated law school until onboarding at Legal Aid, I worked various positions until I found the right fit for me. I taught elementary special education. I taught middle school alternative education. I worked as an associate attorney at a small law firm. I was a supervising attorney at the WVU College of Law Child and Family Advocacy Clinic. I volunteered as a pro bono attorney for Legal Aid. I even opened my own small firm. I tried many positions out until finally I landed as the part-time DV attorney in 2018 in the Clarksburg office, and I knew I had found the right fit for me. In 2019, I became a full-time employee at the Morgantown Office. At the end of 2021, I became the pro bono supervising attorney.
Describe how your work at LAWV has evolved.
With my new position as pro bono supervising attorney, my work has evolved from helping individual clients to expanding services to help as many West Virginians as possible.
What is the most important lesson you have learned through your advocacy at LAWV?
The most important lesson I have learned is to never give up if you think something is wrong. With Shelbi’s case, it ultimately took years to get through the legal process. But in the end, we have WV State Supreme Court decision that states, “No means no. “
What is the biggest way LAWV impacts West Virginians?
I think the best way LAWV impacts West Virginians is not through representation but by simply providing information. Clients come to us with legal problems; that is a given. But often they also come to us with questions about issues that are not legal. Like, what agency can I use to get my children clothing? When you foster the relationships with your clients, they know you are someone who will try to help them no matter what and in any way you can.
What would our communities and courts look like if Legal Aid of West Virginia did not exist?
I practice mainly with clients who have experienced domestic violence. I believe that without the partnerships between Legal Aid of West Virginia and domestic violence programs throughout the state, fewer survivors would come forward, fewer protective orders would be granted, and more people would stay in an unhealthy and dangerous situation.
When you think of Legal Aid of West Virginia, what words come to mind?
Heart. Everyone who works at Legal Aid has so much heart for what they do and for whom they help.
How do you explain Legal Aid to those who aren’t familiar with our work?
Legal Aid offers legal services to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get legal help.
What makes working at LAWV special for you?
My child was able to meet Shelbi for the first time as we worked on telling her story. They had a great time playing in the park and enjoying each other’s company. He woke up the next day and asked if we were going to go to the park again to see Shelbi. We help real people in our communities with whom we can connect and get to know.