By Jennifer Masi
Amanda McGinn took a breath, entered through the courtroom doors, passed the courtroom seats, and walked directly up to the plaintiff’s table. She introduced herself to the judge and advocated confidently for her client, a grandmother devoted to two young girls’ best interests. Amanda was calm, collected and tenacious as she presented the facts of the case. When she left the courtroom, she did so with a “win” for the family.
It was her first time appearing in court. Amanda, an associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, had just presented her Children’s Law Center pro bono caregiver custody case before a DC judge, alongside co-counsel, Megan Greer, a counsel at Akin Gump.
“Taking this case was a major step in my litigation career,” Amanda shares. “I was able to take the lead. Megan was there for me every step of the way, ready to answer my questions and give me advice when I needed it.”
While Amanda typically focuses on labor and employment at Akin Gump, she’s always been passionate about children’s rights and education and, as a Pro Bono Scholar at the firm, considers pro bono work to be integral to her practice. That’s why she reached out to her colleague Megan Greer, who specializes in congressional investigations, to learn more about pro bono with Children’s Law Center. Megan serves on Children’s Law Center’s Advisory Board and is an active pro bono attorney.
Amanda knew that together, and through the resources Children’s Law Center provides its pro bono teams, she and Megan could use their legal skills to help children thrive.
Megan, who has practiced law for a decade, says that the skills you gain volunteering as a pro bono attorney are directly transferable to billable clients. She explains that as a lawyer, your job is to help your client navigate the legal process. This includes identifying and overcoming obstacles and, of course, advocating for them.
When the two agreed to partner on a caregiver custody pro bono case through Children’s Law Center, they met grandmother Kelly, a dedicated caretaker of two young children, Cassie and Carrie. The girls have always lived with Kelly, and she serves as their primary caregiver. She never misses any of the girls’ school events or education planning meetings.
Kelly believed that a joint custody agreement with the girls’ mom, Dina, was the best arrangement for her granddaughters. Unfortunately, the girls’ father, who was unable to care for Cassie and Carrie, fought the arrangement. It was a stressful time for the family. “When we took the case, we were able to tell Kelly ‘you don’t have to worry about this, we’ve got this,'” Megan remembers. “It was rewarding to see the relief in her face, and to know we could help this family.”
After months of Megan and Amanda’s hard work, the case closed successfully. For this Akin Gump duo, success meant that Kelly and Dina now legally share custody of Cassie and Carrie. The family is now working to mend fences, and everyone is focused on the well-being of the girls.
“Through this pro bono case, we were able to work with a DC family dealing with very real-life issues,” Amanda states. “You know your work has an incredible impact not only in that moment, but in these families’ lives. It’s extremely rewarding.”
And that’s what success and pro bono work is all about.
*All client names have been changed to protect client anonymity
Jennifer Masi is the Pro Bono Director at Children’s Law Center.