Cecelia Blue may not be our oldest volunteer, but she certainly ranks near the top for longtime commitment to LCBH and our clients - she first began volunteering at LCBH over a decade ago! Cecelia started out with the old Attorney of the Day program, stepping up in court to cover status hearings and settle cases. She left LCBH for a time while pursuing other opportunities, and then, late last year, she boomeranged back to LCBH after hearing about a training for new volunteers. What brought her back after all those years? She says, "I remembered what a positive experience it was. You see people floundering by themselves in court, struggling to represent themselves pro se, because they cannot afford a lawyer. I believe people should be able to get a high quality attorney even if they can't afford one."
For Cecelia, those aren't empty words; it's a way of life. She is serious about pro bono work and treats it like it’s her job, often spending more hours on her assorted pro bono projects than on her own business. In any given week you might find Cecelia at the Dwight Correctional Facility, where she helps incarcerated mothers petition to preserve their parental rights, or at the Daley Center, where she serves as a guardian ad litem (court appointed attorney) in family law cases. When she's not doing pro bono work, she finds time to squeeze in her own paying clients through her accounting and law practices.
When Cecelia returned to LCBH last year, she decided to branch out from her previous experience in eviction court and try something new: a jury trial. Although she had never done one before, she says she felt prepared with LCBH's support: "The attorneys at LCBH gave me everything I needed so I just had to organize and tweak." The eight-hour trial seemed to go by in a blur, and before she knew it the jury was coming back to read the verdict. Cecelia felt confident that they would find for her client, and she was right.
What tips does Cecelia have for a pro bono attorney looking to take the leap into working on a trial? Preparation, preparation, and more preparation. "When you walk into the court room, you need to look like you've done it 100 times before, even if it's your first time. And remember, representing your client in the best light includes putting yourself in the best light possible for the jury and the judge. They will respond to human interaction."
So what's next for Cecelia? She's going to add yet another graduate degree on top of her JD/MBA by pursuing a PhD in clinical counseling. Before that, she will be participating in an intensive, three month training with the Center for Conflict Resolution to become a volunteer mediator. As much as she enjoyed her trial victory, she finds the US litigation system too adversarial and is a strong advocate of mediation. "Sometimes when I'm interacting with other lawyers, I want them to know I truly want what is best for everyone. We are all in this together, even if we aren't on the same team." This is clearly one volunteer who knows how to put the pro in pro bono.