Laura Enriquez Laura Enriquez is a shareholder in Mounce, Green, Myers, Safi, Paxson & Galatzan in El Paso, practicing personal injury trial law. She has spent 21 years handling pro bono cases, from employment litigation to construction accidents and family law. How did you get started with pro bono cases and why did you take them on? I give credit to the El Paso Bar Association, which required lawyers to handle two family law cases pro bono and contribute $600 per year to El Paso County for those handling criminal defense cases. The bar has always focused on pro bono efforts, and it showed me that there are many people in need. And since I also speak fluent Spanish, I’ve always been referred clients—many of whom could not afford to pay me. I currently handle pro bono cases for people who are sued. If you are a plaintiff in a lawsuit, a lawyer will take your case on a contingency basis, but what if you cannot afford a lawyer? Sometimes people are sued for a strategic reason—but for them, it is frightening. I can recall a client crying—telling me how he saved $10,000 to put his son through college and was now being sued and was fearful that the dream was over. Why should attorneys take pro bono cases? You learn a lot of things from pro bono cases. Also, if you are having trouble getting into the courtroom, it is a great way to get experience. What are some areas of law attorneys should focus their pro bono work on? Civil defense is an area where people really need help. Many of the legal aid clinics cannot handle these types of cases because they are so focused on evictions and family law issues. What do you take away from your experiences? You are reminded of how scary it is to be involved in a lawsuit when you do not know what you are doing—and how important it is to have a lawyer helping you. What pro bono case stands out the most to you? One of my clients saved $2,000 to have a quinceañera for her daughter. She paid for the hall and security, which did not show up that night. A fight started at the party and it got out of hand. One of the teenagers was injured and sued the hall. My client was then sued by the owners of the hall despite the fact that they had failed to provide the security that she paid for. She should never have been a party to the lawsuit and was eventually dismissed. I also represented a small auto business owned by clients who have two paralyzed daughters with rare illnesses. The clients made a small error on a complicated employment law issue that made them potentially liable. I defended the suit and eventually settled it for an amount they could pay monthly. They shared stories of their daughters when we would send payments to the plaintiff’s counsel. I learned so much from them and from their strength. • The ATJ Pro Bono Champion is a quarterly feature highlighting the work of an attorney chosen by the Texas Access to Justice Commission. Recipients represent diverse practice and geographic areas and are selected based on their volume of and length of time spent on pro bono work. To learn more about pro bono work in Texas or to get involved, go to probonotexas.org.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/ATJ+Pro+Bono+Champion/2944140/456730/article.html.