Pro Bono Month – John Williams
What is your role with Legal Aid of WV (LAWV)?
I am the new Supervising Attorney in the Parkersburg office. I manage the day-to-day operations as well as represent clients under the WV WORKS (also known as TANF) grant. Our office has recently gone through a significant transitional period, but it is now fully staffed. One of my initial priorities is to conduct extensive outreach efforts and reestablish our presence within the community. I used to do pro bono work with LAWV before taking this position, which highly contributed to my decision to apply to Legal Aid. I saw the amazing work the organization was performing and wanted to be a part of it. Prior to volunteering, I was unaware of the actual size of LAWV and the extent of the services that we provided. After speaking with the pro bono staff and learning more about LAWV, I knew this would be a great fit for me. I have been extremely pleased with my decision and every one of my colleagues has been very welcoming.
How did you get involved with pro bono work at LAWV?
I first came to volunteer for LAWV through my work as the Program Director for the WVU College of Law Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic. The clinical program has a long-standing collaboration with LAWV’s Morgantown office to offer services to victims of domestic violence (DV). Third-year law students who have acquired their Rule 10.1 authorization to practice attend the DV docket and represent clients under the supervision of a licensed attorney. I typically acted as the student’s supervising attorney for this project. This collaboration provided valuable family law and litigation experience for students and allowed victims to obtain representation the day of their hearing. During my participation in this project, I was asked if I could personally represent DV referrals when students were no longer available. This led me to begin volunteering for the DV docket days in Monongalia, Preston, and Marion counties.
What types of work did you do as a pro bono volunteer?
I only handled domestic violence protective order petitions during my individual pro bono work. However, I did assist in other additional collaborative efforts between LAWV and the clinical program. Specifically, I supervised the development of educational information during the Covid-19 pandemic. This information was made available on the LAWV website. I also occasionally assisted LAWV when the Clarksburg office received funding to assist small business and nonprofits organizations. Finally, I was in the background supervising students during their participation in any various clinics or outreach events hosted by the clinical program and LAWV.
Have there been cases that you remember and would like to share?
Unfortunately, there were many cases that stuck with me. It is difficult to avoid becoming emotionally invested in the outcomes of these types of cases. This was an ongoing topic of discussion during my supervision of law students. I would say that one of the first DV cases has stuck with me the most because it was a valuable learning experience. When I initially agreed to supervise students in this project, I had very minimal experience in litigation as I primarily practiced transactional law. I was assured that I would be fine, and that Family Court was less formal. However, the opposing party was represented by his father who was a very experienced out-of-state litigator. He began submitting into evidence laminated photos of my client obtained through a private investigator, objecting to basically every question that was asked, and even tried to suggest I should be reprimanded for ethical violations. I was wholly unprepared for this. However, I luckily was able to hold my own during the hearing. Ultimately, the client did not have the greatest facts and the DVPO was denied. But from this moment forward, I made sure that I was always extremely prepared and fluent in this area of law. This would establish the groundwork for me to later obtain favorable decisions on more factually difficult cases.
What is it like working with the pro bono team at LAWV?
Absolutely wonderful! Every person I have had the pleasure to meet or work with has been very kindhearted and friendly. It is clear how devoted they are to their work and, more importantly, the clients. The team that Legal Aid has developed is astounding, and I only think more amazing things are to come. The hard work and dedication exhibited by these individuals is a true statement of their character and they are the real superheroes of the legal practice.
What would you say to someone hesitant to start volunteering, either because of inexperience or time concerns?
I would strongly encourage them to just do it. Volunteering is a great way to gain practical experience in various areas of the law. Many times, there will be issues present that you will be able to use to better represent your clients. Also, time constraints will always be a concern in your legal practice. However, it is important to remember that practicing should not be entirely about making money. WV attorneys have a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. The ABA urges all attorneys to provide a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service annually. As practitioners, we should strive to make ourselves available to advocate for those who are unable to afford legal representation. Typically, those clients that are most in need and, quite frankly, will bring you the most joy in helping.
How are you celebrating Pro Bono Month?
Now that I’m a supervising attorney at LAWV, I am celebrating pro bono month by primarily soliciting local attorneys to provide more pro bono assistance. The pandemic played a huge factor in limiting the number of attorneys volunteering in Parkersburg. So, I am trying to coordinate with the local bar to put on a cocktail hour to encourage these attorneys to get back into giving back. I have also planned a small office pizza party if we can succeed in revitalizing the pro bono and outreach efforts.