Dignity in Court
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m making a difference, regardless of the work I do and the passion and caring I put into it, but regardless of the outcome, when I stand next to that child in court, I remember I’m helping him or her maintain their dignity. Just by standing with them.”
I’m paraphrasing the words of Angela Vigil, Baker & McKenzie’s Executive Director, during her acceptance speech at the 2016 ABA Solo & Small Firm Summit in Cincinnati when receiving an award for Making a Difference through Pro Bono Work.
It’s the word that meant the most to me during the conference. Not the impressive array of speakers, not my presentation, not the wonderful people I met and hung out with. One word. Dignity.
I thought about the impact (or lack of which) I was having during this past summer volunteering with the New York State Court’s access to justice program.
As a Court Navigator, I was assigned to housing court where the hallway free-for-all often get chaotic and overwhelming. We’re there to listen and assist and guide, even stand with litigants in court, without offering legal advice. I interacted with scores of individuals facing challenging situations including the loss of their home and couldn’t help but wonder if I was making a difference, especially when the outcome was less than desirable. Listening to Angela Vigil talk about dignity hit home.
It was a reminder that whatever you do–representing a client or engaging in access to justice efforts by standing with them in court when the blindfold on Lady Justice loosens–know you’re making a difference, even when it seems like nothing has changed or gone the way you wanted. At that moment, you’re helping someone maintain his or her dignity.
Editors note: This is a departure from our usual actionable-oriented posts but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer encouragement and an acknowledgement of the service lawyers and those involved in the access to justice movement provide.