Teresa Belem Morales Teresa Belem Morales, a solo practitioner in San Antonio, left teaching to become a lawyer after seeing the legal struggles of some of her students and their families. She started helping with pro bono efforts in law school and hasn’t looked back since, taking on cases involving mental illness, elder issues, and children with disabilities. How did you get started and how long have you been doing pro bono work? I started in law school, getting involved in immigration clinics and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, known as VITA. When I graduated, I volunteered with Catholic Charities’ Immigration and Legal Services Program. Once I got my law license, I started on my own, and it only came naturally to help with the Alamo Area Council of Governments, elder issues programs, and the mental health docket. Why is pro bono work important to you? If I can help, then why shouldn’t I? How do you balance pro bono cases with your regular workload? I learned in the 10 years I have been practicing that pro bono cases need to be treated just like regular cases. Because if you don’t, then the pro bono cases take over your emotions or, worse, go to the bottom of the list since there is no financial gain. Now my pro bono becomes a regular case. It starts and it ends. The compensation is just in a different form. What are some characteristics of a successful pro bono lawyer? Any lawyer can do one case and every lawyer should. However, if a lawyer wants to stay consistent with a pro bono caseload, then he or she needs to realize there is compensation, maybe not monetary, but it may manifest itself in the way of a referral, a plant, a pan of spaghetti, or just a shrug of thanks. Regardless, treat the case with the respect, integrity, and honesty that all cases require. Share a pro bono success story with us. A frail, older woman was living in a hotel room. Adult Protective Services became involved and then involved me. In the nine months her case was active, I got to see her get the medical care she needed, a stable home, and through a guardian, a voice. But she was not a happy client. She called me multiple times a day; the facility would call me in the middle of the night to tell me about her escapades of escape. She yelled at me and she cried to me. She forgot who I was and what my role was—at times I was her lawyer, her social worker, her food server, and her friend. When the case ended, I was relieved because I knew she was safe and no one could take advantage of her. What advice do you have for a lawyer starting out with pro bono? A quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” And know that what is possible for us lawyers is the impossible for our clients.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/ATJ+Pro+Bono+Champion/2649674/362531/article.html.