Nick Panayotopoulos. (John Disney/Daily Report)
20—Number of people abused by a partner in the U.S. each minute.
20,000—Daily average number of calls received by domestic violence hotlines.
$8.3 billion—Estimated annual cost of domestic violence in the U.S.
35 percent—Estimated number of domestic violence cases reported.
The statistics associated with domestic violence are startling. I am generally aware of the issues; my wife, Katie Bates, serves on the board of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Katie and I (as well as our respective firms) are committed to helping victims of domestic violence.
Nevertheless, only about a month ago did I take my first pro bono case from the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF) Safe and Stable Families Project, through which volunteer attorneys represent victims of intimate partner violence. This opportunity to see firsthand what violence can do to a family and to know how much using my legal skills, even for a limited time, can change the course of a family’s life was profound.
My client was the mother of a very young child, and the mother had been repeatedly assaulted by the father. Through this process, I was able to help this mother tell her story and to discredit the father. In the end, the court granted the much-needed protective order, barring contact per the terms requested by my client.
I encourage all attorneys to take on this worthy work. Not only can you affect positive change for those in need and without resources—the foremost reason to take on this work—but these protective order hearings are expeditious mini-trials that allow you to hone your trial skills. Such representation provides litigators that mostly deal with motion or discovery practice invaluable courtroom experience. Transactional lawyers that miss the thrill of trial can get a nice dose of it here. It also is a great opportunity to provide young lawyers or summer clerks a look at a bench trial on a case they can help work up. Indeed, these cases offer great opportunities for senior attorneys to mentor younger lawyers, working through the entire trial process in a minimal amount of time.
In my case, I brought on Ross Bundschuh, a second-year law clerk at our firm to help work up the case and watch the restraining order hearing. Ross benefited by experiencing client meetings firsthand, by helping analyze legal evidentiary and other issues and by witnessing the equivalent of a bench trial. I walked away knowing not only that the client and her child would know that members of the Georgia bar are available and willing to help those less fortunate but also that I had helped train and instill what it means to give back in a next-generation lawyer.
Ross, reflecting on his experience, shared with AVLF, “I learned so much about the mechanics of the litigation process by working with an experienced trial lawyer who guided me through the necessary analysis, and strategy. … I had never experienced before working on this case the magnitude of the personal impact lawyers could have on their clients’ lives.”
It is helpful for all of us to be reminded of the impact we can have. As a profession, we need not forget the importance of pro bono work and our commitment to benefit others. I encourage all lawyers—even if they don’t often practice in court—to take those skills and give back. It’s as simple as making a call or sending an email to Jamie Perez, Director, AVLF Safe and Stable Families Project, (404) 612-4316 or email@example.com. The AVLF staff is incredibly helpful and provides all the necessary tools to represent an AVLF client for the first time.
My firm, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial, is hosting an AVLF Domestic Violence training on Tuesday, Aug. 16, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The training will equip you to represent victims seeking a TPO in Fulton Superior Court, and 3.5 CLE credits are available. Seating is limited. Please contact Lauren Barnette at LBarnette@wwhgd.com to R.S.V.P. We plan to host again in the future, and I extend an open invitation to all members of the Georgia bar to attend.
Even if becoming a volunteer lawyer with AVLF is not right for you, I encourage you to become involved with one of the many organizations throughout the state that serve victims of domestic violence and to do your part to help end domestic violence. You can find opportunities to get involved here: http://gcadv.org/get-involved/.
If you or someone you know is facing violence, call the 24-hour statewide hotline: (800) 334-2836.