October 3, 2008
Local Attorney Demonstrates Pro Bono Commitment
~ written by Delilah Nunez Giardini, Legal Aid Society, Law Clerk
Jessica A. Mager, an associate with Chester Willcox, & Saxbe, sees her law degree as a gift that must be shared with the less fortunate. Mager practices primarily in the domestic relations area within her firm, along with Eugene Lewis. “I was taught very early in my career that pro bono work is not really optional. I believe that it is required of you to give back to the profession.” Mager has recently expanded her pro bono commitment by becoming a pro bono Divorce Access Project attorney.
The project, created in 2004 by The Legal Aid Society of Columbus with direction from the Columbus Bar, the Franklin County Domestic Relations bench, and experienced practitioners, refers uncontested divorces to experienced domestic relations attorneys to be completed in “batches,” allowing the attorneys to appear in court on the same day for several clients. The goal of the project is to be a resource to the clients and a source of assistance to the domestic relations bench, facing a staggering docket on a daily basis.
During one hearing, Mager successfully advocated for six clients. Michele Bush was one of those clients.
On the day of their first meeting, Bush’s developmentally challenged daughter Olivia was too sick to go to school. Bush didn’t want to reschedule, so she brought her daughter to the meeting. Upon arrival, Olivia was very uncomfortable, making it difficult for everyone to concentrate. “I had this belief that lawyers were stuffy. Jessica blew my stereotype out of the water. She is down to earth. Not many people can deal with the needs of a developmentally challenged child. Jessica’s parenting skills shined when she took the time to get to know my daughter,” recalls Bush.
Mager has teamed up with Legal Aid in the past through her pro bono involvement with the Second Hearing Negotiation Civil Protection Order project and the Pro Bono Tenants’ Advocacy Project. Currently, she along with the other lawyers within her firm are working on the Save the Dream project, the pro bono component of Ohio’s statewide response to the foreclosure crisis.
Prior to association with Chester Willcox, Mager worked as a staff attorney for Capital University’s Child and Family Advocacy Clinic. She credits her clinic colleagues, Lorie McCaughan and Danny Bank, for impressing upon her the idea that giving back can be rewarding as well as a great learning experience. She still remembers her amazement as to how “Lorie and Danny would routinely take on difficult and time consuming cases, yet make it seem easy and quite doable. Those cases gave them the opportunity to learn new areas of law in front of new tribunals and they always welcomed the challenge.”
Mager hopes that members of the bar will increase their pro bono commitment instead of citing lack of time as an obstacle to getting more involved. “I have found that pro bono clients are very accommodating because they know you are doing them a service and they appreciate it. I have also found that co-workers and judges are always willing to help if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed. Therefore, there really is no excuse that one is too busy when you have a flexible court and clients as well as co-workers who are willing to help you.”
To volunteer for this project or to learn more about upcoming pro bono projects, contact Jill Wojtyna (614/224.8374, ext. 135, firstname.lastname@example.org).