I'm proud to introduce the March Volunteer of the Month, Lynne Wilson.
Wilson has been volunteering with the King County Bar Association since early 2007 with our Volunteer Legal Services program handling the vacating of criminal records for eligible clients. She has also worked with us in the Volunteer Attorneys for Persons with HIV/AIDs (VAPWA) program.
Connie Ritchie, the Volunteer Legal Services Program manager, who nominated Wilson, said, "Lynne has been one of our go-to volunteers in the areas of vacating criminal records. Lynne's contributions in this area have helped clients get back into the job market and clear the way to find rental housing. Lynne happily accepts pro bono referrals for these types of cases, which VLS appreciates immensely."
Wilson answered a few questions for us about her life and commitment to volunteering her skills.
Q: What did you dream you would do for work when you were little?
A: Being a writer, poet or a journalist.
Q: When did your dream change?
A: While doing paralegal work for a civil rights lawyer and realizing that lawyers are writers, too.
Q: What is your best skill?
A: Writing briefs, especially summary judgment motions and appeals. I have found that the more difficult and challenging the case, the more satisfying the process and ultimately the better the end product.
Q: What inspires you to volunteer?
A: The clients' stories and appreciation, even when I'm not ultimately able to get their conviction vacated. There is also great joy in giving back to the community and in being of service to others.
Q: What is your most memorable volunteer experience?
A: I represented a young immigrant woman originally from Africa who had been homeless and had somehow managed to put herself through dental hygienist school. She had a job lined up, but could not get licensed by the State due to a shoplifting conviction. We were able to vacate it; she got her license and greatly appreciated the legal help. I have had the privilege of helping others like her through the KCBA Volunteer Legal Services Program.
Q: What originally drew you to the Volunteer Legal Services Program?
A: I was helping a friend obtain citizenship and he needed to vacate a minor misdemeanor. I signed up for an excellent KCBA CLE on vacating convictions in early 2007 (I still use the materials) and got free CLE credits for agreeing to take on one case. I had no idea before that how devastating it can be in a person's life to have made a single mistake that results in a minor misdemeanor conviction and not have the resources to deal with it. I always say "yes" when asked to help someone with this problem.
Q: How often do you volunteer?
A: I always have at least one pro bono case going on at any given time. I also volunteer for the Pro Bono Panel at the Federal District Court, Western District of Washington, where I represent prisoners in civil rights matters.
Q: What keeps you motivated to volunteer?
A: It keeps me humble and in touch with clients I would never otherwise interact with. I've always been interested in public policy and social justice, but great satisfaction comes from helping a single individual overcome a legal obstacle that is keeping them homeless and/or jobless. We as attorneys can do much to help alleviate the often unnecessary bitterness and cynicism of our clients.
Q: How do you gain perspective regarding a difficult situation?
A: I have a daily morning meditation practice (with much assistance from the WSBA's Washington Contemplative Lawyers group). Meditation has this amazing way of reordering your brain cells so that you can "pause and breathe" whenever the inevitable daily difficulties arise. It also gives you the space necessary to get in touch with your own "inner voice" for authentic problem solving throughout the day and to keep from overreacting. If that doesn't work, I call a good friend.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for fellow volunteers, especially those among us who are relatively new?
A: My main advice would be to ask for help whenever you need it. I've had a lot of help along the way. There are also many of us "elder" lawyers around who love passing on the tools of the trade.