Counseling Pro Bono Clients for the Non-Family Law Practitioner

Learn about opportunities for Nevada lawyers to offer access to justice. Read this article written by Homa Woodrum

By Homa Sayyar Woodrum, Esq.

Even attorneys without family law experience can counsel pro bono clients. As trained legal professionals who have Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 (Competence) top of mind, we have a lot to offer even if our substantive legal knowledge is not exhaustive. For the average indigent individual facing a court interaction, just consider “what could elevate their chance at telling their story in a way that offers them an authentic ‘day in court?’” An attorney with little to no hands-on family law experience can still use critical thinking skills in an Ask-a-Lawyer/Lawyer-in-the-Library context to give much-needed peace of mind to someone facing a daunting and complicated system. Hearing, “I feel so much better after talking to you,” after a short session with a legal aid client makes the effort all the more worth it.

While Access to Justice efforts are multi-faceted (statewide and local forms, representation, training, etc.), there is something every attorney can offer whether they have expertise in family law: client counseling. Ask-A-Lawyer sessions are not a lightning round quiz to see how much you know about community property, child support calculations, or capacity in guardianship. Legal aid organizations have a plethora of resources for attorneys seeking general understanding of family law (including free continuing legal education courses and materials in divorce, custody, probate, guardianship, and more).

In a way, pro bono counseling is the perfect setting for a prospective client to tell their story and have an attorney hone it in real time. What questions are raised for a law-trained listener when hearing a story for the first time? How can they then counsel the client to eliminate extraneous details or emotion clouding the core of their request? These tools are already in your toolkit, and you can share them with others.

If you still feel anxious about signing up for an Ask-a-Lawyer session (or two), consider shadowing a current volunteer. This practice is especially beneficial for newer admittees to the bar who may not have had direct client interaction experience before. With virtual opportunities, volunteering is more convenient than ever before. You’ll soon realize that what you are observing is not an attorney being put on the spot to reference statutes and procedures, but instead is a conversation aimed at empowering an individual intimidated by the system of your stock and trade. Sometimes that means talking someone through what to expect in a courtroom or encouraging them to reframe a narrative that comes off as “my ex isn’t doing right by our child” to “I’m here for a mutual interest in the best interests of our child.” (Same underlying facts, very different theme and tone.) Sometimes pro bono counseling means offering reassurance that the individual going it alone as a pro se litigant is doing a good job using the resources available to them in their case.

In the 1939 movie adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the protagonists receive from the titular Wizard physical manifestations of the skills they had all along. As Glinda the Good Witch ultimately tells Dorothy Gale, “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” Attorneys have the power to make a tough situation a little less so by offering a sympathetic ear and a little professional advice.

About the author

Homa Sayyar Woodrum, Esq. currently serves as General Counsel for the State of Nevada Department of Administration’s Purchasing Division. She received her JD in 2007 from the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ William S. Boyd School of Law.

About the article

© 2024 Clark County Bar Association (CCBA). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any portion of this issue is allowed without written permission from the publisher. Editorial policy available upon request.

This article was originally published in the Communiqué (Apr. 2024), the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association. See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2024/communique-apr-2024/

The articles and advertisements appearing in Communiqué magazine do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the CCBA, the CCBA Publications Committee, the editorial board, or the other authors. All legal and other issues discussed are not for the purpose of answering specific legal questions. Attorneys and others are strongly advised to independently research all issues.

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