Christopher K. Wrampelmeier Christopher K. Wrampelmeier, a shareholder in the Underwood Law Firm in Amarillo, first learned the meaning of service through his father, whose lifelong career as a U.S. foreign service officer took the family to places such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Zambia. After graduating from Princeton, Wrampelmeier spent four years on active duty as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Now he is a family law attorney and has been committed to pro bono for more than two decades. Why do you believe that pro bono is something not to be brushed aside? Our legal system works only if people believe it works. When no system exists for helping disadvantaged citizens and noncitizens, people’s faith in the system is jeopardized. When attorneys do pro bono work, we send a powerful message that we care about our legal system and we want it to work for everyone. And when an indigent client gets a pro bono attorney, that client gains a fighting chance to prevail in court or at least to be heard. Can you share a memorable pro bono experience? I recently represented a paternal grandmother of two children taken into custody by Child Protective Services when they were wandering alone down a busy street at ages 3 and 4. The father, who was in prison, wanted to raise his children, and our intervention kept the children from being placed for adoption. The father was then released, and eventually the children were placed with him, and they have thrived with him. Finally, just over five years after I took on the case, all the parties and the judge agreed in a final order that the father should have custody of the children, making for a happy ending. What are the main differences between handling a pro bono matter and handling a normal case? Some pro bono clients do not have email or reliable phone connections so we have to communicate by letter. While most appreciate my time, the absence of an hourly fee removes some of the incentive to reach a settlement. It also makes many pro bono clients far more grateful than normal clients. Other than the money, what we demand from our clients—honesty and cooperation, most of all—is the same. How has your background influenced your decision to do pro bono? My father served his nation his entire career, and both my high school and college strongly emphasized producing great men and women of service. We were expected to continue the tradition. My four years in the Army were one way of paying back my nation for the gifts it gave me. I met and was personally responsible for soldiers from all walks of life. I became used to discussing with men the issues of wives, girlfriends, and children. I listened and was expected to come up with solutions. Most of all, I had to keep my soldiers’ trust. Fortunately, I did not have to keep track of my hours because the Army owned all of my time! Family law has enabled me to continue to live a life of service, one in which I can make a real difference in the lives of adults and children. What are your top tips for making the time to take on pro bono cases? Have a smart, dependable paralegal and secretary who are willing and able to talk to your clients, the offices of opposing counsel, and the courts. Invest in technology. Use a document assembly program. Make your office as paperless as possible. Set up a system with your staff to manage intake and paper flow. Most days require triage. Learn what is a crisis and what can wait, without allowing that wait to extend too long. Use a to-do list and calendar deadlines to prioritize. Encourage your staff to stay on you so your clients don’t have to. Last but not least, have the backing of the attorneys with whom you practice. I am very fortunate to work for a firm that supports my pro bono work. The expertise of a partner or associate freely given is often the greatest time saver of them all.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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