By: Sarah Harris
From my perspective, providing free legal services to those who cannot afford it is a way of helping others by giving back to the community and investing in it. It helps to protect those who are most vulnerable in our society from being taken advantage of or overlooked. In addition, the inequalities present in our society are not the only way in which these people are at a disadvantage; many people are unfamiliar with the laws which govern us and, in some cases, their own rights. It is important for an attorney to use her or his knowledge of the law to advocate for those who may not understand it, whether that be due to a language barrier, lack of experience with the law or both. This is significant in its own right, but it is also true that these people have value, and could prove to be future leaders who will later give back to others themselves. Our country simply cannot afford to let those from low-income backgrounds fall through the cracks.
Moreover, attorneys all over the world often have the skill set needed to serve as a bridge between different nations, legal systems, cultures, communities, and individuals. They have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of many people who might not be heard otherwise, and this power is amplified with pro-bono work. It is in this way that such work also plays a role in bettering an imperfect legal system as it tries to guide the governance of an imperfect society and protect its people. Such work contributes to balancing the inequalities inherent to our system so that we can all be part of “a more perfect union.”
Continuing on, the law serves, rules, and binds together a community of people from all walks of life. Ideally, regardless of age, race, sex, class, or political leanings, the people of the United States are all governed by the same set of laws and regarded as equals. Unfortunately, the reality of our world is far from that ideal, and there is a myriad of ways in which our society, and thus our legal system, falls short. We live in a world in which senseless harm can come to innocent people simply because of the color of their skin. We live in a time in which, in spite of decades of struggle, sexism is not a problem confined to our past. Providing free legal services to those who cannot afford it is important because it gives attorneys the opportunity to have a role in balancing the scales of inequality not only in the United States but also beyond.
I come from a single income home in which financial struggles have been the norm. My family has always had food to eat and a place to live, and I will always be grateful for what we did have growing up. However, five people living on the income of one elementary school teacher did lead to its own challenges. In spite of this, I have managed to make it to a point which many may have thought impossible for me, and which some have told me may not be in reach: I have just completed my Bachelor’s Degree at Cornell University, and I am about to enter into my first year as a student at Stanford Law School. Although it is true that I have worked very hard for all of my accomplishments, I believe that a person can go nowhere in life without help from someone along the way. I have received help in the form of advice from mentors, guidance, and support from deans and professors, scholarships from organizations, and opportunities from the schools I have been blessed to attend. The inspiration and encouragement my mother has given me since I was a young girl have been of great help to me as well. There are, no doubt, countless people who have contributed to my success in one way or another, and I am immensely grateful to them all.
Because I know I have had help, I have a great understanding of the importance of helping others, as well as a strong desire to do so. I seek to become a successful attorney who has made a positive difference in the world. I will have the means to change lives by bringing a voice to those who may not have the tools to speak for themselves by utilizing my own understanding of the law, providing free legal services to those in need, and creating scholarships for students from low-income households like me. Although I am years away from having the means to do so, I already have plans to develop such scholarships of my own.
I am personally motivated to achieve these goals by the financial struggles in my home and in my community, as well as the injustices, fears, and hopes I see every day in our society. The qualities of those who have come before me – from the courage of Ida B. Wells to the boldness of Shirley Chisholm – also inspire me to remain determined and always persevere. For those who may still question the significance of pro-bono work, a look at the myriad of feats attorneys accomplish every day through offering free legal services, both in the United States and abroad, would be more than enough to demonstrate its importance. For example, attorneys working pro-bono are advocating for the accused, offering legal counsel to the elderly, helping inventors with limited income to apply for patents, and taking on cases regarding international human rights issues. These are just a few examples of the ways in which attorneys providing free legal services can make a positive difference. This work offers benefits to not only the community at large and the legal system as a whole, but also to the world; it helps to ensure that justice is not only for the wealthy, and rights are not reserved for the rich.
About the Author
Sarah Harris is the second-place recipient of this year’s Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., Excellence in Ethics Scholarship. She will be attending Stanford Law School in fall 2018 and we are excited to support her journey.