Staff Highlight: Cathy Jo Estep
Hot off a hard-fought win for a client, Cathy Jo Estep is the person at Legal Aid you want to run into in the hallway—as a matter of fact, she’s the person you always want to run into. As a LAWV paralegal, she’s incredibly busy, but she’s also the person who welcomes new employees she sees in the break room, makes sure the company refrigerator gets cleaned out each month, and is always on the sign-up list to bake a cake for birthday celebrations. Sometimes, it feels like we might not deserve Cathy Jo, but thankfully we—and her clients—have her.
Cathy Jo got started working in a legal office during the summer of her sophomore year of high school, and she developed a taste for law. She first came to the Charleston office of LAWV in 2009 as a paralegal working on DHHR Fair Hearings and Social Security overpayments and cessation cases. In 2012, setbacks in funding led to layoffs, and Cathy Jo was one of them. In 2015, LAWV hired Cathy Jo back, and she now serves as our statewide paralegal with the same casework, though she will soon be joined by a new paralegal for the northern part of the state.
Cathy Jo’s clients are facing loss of benefits or being asked to pay back their overpayment, both of which can be detrimental to her clients. This demands skilled advocacy and empathy, and Cathy Jo has both in spades. “I simply believe we are put on this earth to love and help one another,” she says. “I have used the services of Legal Aid before. Our advocates have more compassion than I could ever imagine, and I am so proud to be a small part of that. Even on our worst days, if a client comes here for help, they will receive compassion, empathy, respect, and help.”
As a rural service provider, Cathy Jo recalls numerous times she has had to drive to her clients who could not be reached otherwise. In one particularly memorable case, she had to drive several miles into a remote area of the state to meet with a homebound client in a wheelchair. The client had a heavy, antiquated wheelchair that neither she nor her husband, who had recently suffered a heart attack, were strong enough to move around the house or load into their vehicle.
She arranged for the client’s hearing to take place by telephone since she could not leave her living room, not even to use the restroom. Cathy Jo won the case, and a positive outcome for the client meant freedom: the lightest-weight wheelchair on the market. “My client was so happy she was able to leave her house and go to the store, the doctor, and anywhere else she needed to go.”
When she’s not taking care of her clients and co-workers, she spends time with her family. Her wife, Andrea, is always willing to offer a helping hand, and they volunteer with Manna Meal and Heart and Hand. They also support their son, Dylan, with school marching band. Cathy Jo’s not a stranger to fun, though, and she loved being outside swimming, kayaking, fishing, walking, and riding bikes and ATVs. She also has a great sense of humor, which has to help when it comes to raising a teenage son.
To know Cathy Jo is to love her, and it’s easy to see why when you talk to her because she says things like this:“The end of the pledge of allegiance says ‘and justice for all.’ That means something. It means every person, regardless of how much money they have, deserves the same chance for justice. I have always believed it was important to help anyone in need, without judgment. Legal Aid gives a voice to those who have never had one, hope to the helpless. It gives justice to those who believed it was out of their reach.