In collaboration with Texas Bar Blog for National Pro Bono Week
Rachael Watson is a Paralegal with the Paralegal Services of North Texas.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I have been doing pro bono work for almost five years now. I work with attorneys across the state of Texas, helping them with family law matters, criminal law cases, probate, and estate planning. I find that most of my work is related to family law issues. Many of those concern children and single parent families.
My most recent ongoing project is working with the Parker County Bar Association regarding setting up free legal clinics in our community for our veterans, military, first responders, and their families.
I also work with Fathers and Mothers for Equal Rights which is a non-profit that helps Pro Se litigants with the legal needs. My role is to draft client legal documents after they have met with the attorney about their case.
Why is pro bono important to you?
Pro bono work is important work because it keeps me humble. It reminds me that I can make a difference in their world, if I just give a little bit of my time.
When an attorney calls me and asks me to help with a pro bono case, no situation is the same. Everyone has their own set of problems and taking a small amount of time out of my life to help someone work through their issues makes it all worth it.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
Doing pro bono has taught me that helping others really isn’t all that hard, especially if you enjoy it. Since being a paralegal is what I do for a living, it’s no different from my everyday job of drafting, researching and filing. Allowing a single dad of three small children to feed his kids instead of having to pay legal fees is more rewarding than I ever thought it could be.
What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
I would tell them to take it because they will be a better practicing attorney for it. For some of the attorneys I work with, they say as long as someone is there willing to get in the muddy waters with them on a case, they will take it. There is always someone else willing to help and they are never alone on any project, no matter how big or small.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I have many humbling stories. One of my most recent memories is when I helped an elderly couple keep their home. A marine veteran and his wife came into a free legal clinic that I went to and spoke with an attorney that I do contract work for. Their daughter, who at the time was living with them, filed suit to force them to vacate their home, since it was “deeded” to her. They, having lived in this home for 40 years, had no idea that their daughter forged a deed, filed it, and then filed suit against them until a week before they walked into the clinic. The attorney and I quickly filed a Motion to Quiet Title, a protective order and notified the District Attorney’s office in that county, to see if additional charges needed to be checked into. Upon the DA’s investigation of this couples daughter, they found that she had fraudulently opened accounts and committed other criminal acts against her parents without them even knowing. She was also working with another attorney in regards to making changes to their estate documents. The Judge in this case acted quickly to help us protect this couple’s home, finances and estate. This was all done at no cost to this couple or the attorney and paralegal involved. In the end, this couple was well taken care of, their legal issues were resolved and the daughter jailed. Since then, we have been able to help a few more people with similar issues at either no cost, or very minimal costs incurred by the client.
Cases like this remind me that it doesn’t matter how much money you do or don’t have, everyone deserves legal representation. Helping someone save what they have worked a lifetime for can’t be any more rewarding than as a paralegal.