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Ensuring Equal Access to All

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 15:49 -- admin25

by Michelle Alden

There but for the grace of God go I. This is a phrase we hear people say all the time, and it encapsulates the uncertainty of our world—a world where we can work hard, lead a healthy life, try to do all the right things, but still hard times befall us.

Many would be hard pressed to say that quote never passed their minds when working with someone less fortunate, who lost a job, whose spouse left them, or someone struggling with health problems or addiction. The list goes on.

This phrase was at the forefront of one volunteer attorney’s mind when she represented “Marilyn” and helped her keep her home. Eighty-one-year-old Marilyn was behind on her mortgage payments and the mortgage company was threatening to foreclose on her longtime home. She had been making payments on her mortgage for 30 years, and if she had remained current the entire time, the loan would have been paid off. However, due to financial hardship, Marilyn fell behind on her payments in 2009. She eventually caught up, only to fall behind again in 2014. During the times Marilyn was in default, the mortgage company charged excessive amounts of interest and penalties, so that even after 30 years of making payments, she still owed $12,000. Marilyn hired a private attorney to represent her in 2015 and paid him $750. The attorney did nothing and Marilyn never got her money back. Still in danger of losing her home, she applied for pro bono assistance. Marilyn’s pro bono lawyer immediately began negotiations with the mortgage company to stop the foreclosure proceedings. The lawyer was able to avoid the foreclosure and work out a loan modification for Marilyn so that she could keep her home. This case shows what a profound difference a volunteer can make in a client’s life, sometimes by not even spending too many hours on the case. Marilyn’s life would have taken a sharp turn for the worse without the assistance of her volunteer attorney. Thanks to the help she received from her attorney, Marilyn still has a home to live in during her golden years.

Many of you will see yourselves in Marilyn—someone who struggled, persisted, and are where they are today despite the obstacles. Some will see yourselves in a different situation—you have enjoyed a life of relative privilege. Some will feel they land somewhere in between—challenges and opportunities—but carrying on just like Marilyn.

“I am so thankful and really honored that I was able to do something positive for Marilyn. Her case was a learning experience both personally and professionally,” said our volunteer, who wishes to remain anonymous.

In order to assist people in need like Marilyn, DVAP relies on the financial assistance provided each year by committed volunteers and supporters alike. Margaret and Jaime Spellings have generously contributed to this year’s Campaign in the amount of $20,000.

“It is a privilege to share whatever you can with this most worthy of causes—that of equal access to justice. It may be the most important thing lawyers do,” said Jerry Alexander, who, along with his wife Sherri, generously donated $15,000.

“AT&T has a proud history of supporting DVAP through lawyer volunteers and annual contributions,” added David R. McAtee II, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel of AT&T—also a $15,000 donor.

The Dallas Association of Young Lawyers is another $15,000 donor. DAYL President Jennifer Ryback added: “DAYL supports DVAP and the Equal Access to Justice Campaign through its annual Wine Tasting. The Wine Tasting not only raises money for DVAP, but also serves as an opportunity to highlight DVAP, encourage young attorneys to volunteer their time by taking pro bono cases, and recognize a young lawyer for his or her contribution to pro bono service. Pro bono service is important, and DAYL is proud to do its part to support DVAP and the EAJ Campaign.

Jerry and Sherri Alexander, AT&T, and the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers have all generously supported this year’s Campaign by contributing at least $15,000 to the cause. They are all long-time supporters of Equal Access to Justice and the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program.

Because of contributions from donors like Margaret, Jaime, Jerry, Sherri, DAYL, and AT&T, the Equal Access to Justice Campaign is a success. These contributions are what allows DVAP to continue to assist thousands of clients every year—and provide opportunities for all.

Michelle Alden is the Director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. She can be reached at aldenm@lanwt.org.

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