By Connie Sinclair
For Tracey Ohm, of counsel at Stinson Leonard Street LLP and dedicated D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center volunteer, the reward of pro bono work isn’t out-of-the-park wins. It’s the gratitude she gets for the simple act of being an advocate. “The clients are so grateful to have someone standing up for them,” she said. “That’s both what I enjoy and what keeps me going.”
The call to advocate is such an effective motivator for Tracey that she has balanced her bankruptcy practice with representing nine pro bono clients from the Center’s Advocacy & Justice Clinic since 2013.
“Tracey’s commitment is unwavering,” says D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center Managing Attorney Vanessa Batters-Thompson. “Her calm, competent approach to pro bono work ensures each client feels heard and respected during a difficult period in their lives.”
One memorable case was a small claims matter in which she helped a tenant obtain damages for personal property lost during an eviction. “The facts of the case were really tough,” said Tracey. Her client, whose case was placed for full representation by the Pro Bono Center’s Advocacy & Justice Clinic, was evicted after a Rapid Rehousing subsidy that helped her out of homelessness came to an end. When she arrived to pick up her belongings at a court-ordered date and time, her landlord had already disposed of her belongings.
Some of the possessions Tracey’s client lost were essential documents, including school diplomas, her passport, and her birth certificate.
After Tracey and a colleague took the woman’s case, the defendant landlord missed the trial, resulting in a default judgment. “It was a challenge explaining to the client that we have the judgment, but collecting on the judgment is a whole different story,” Tracey said. She and her colleague were ultimately able to negotiate a settlement for their client through which the landlord paid the client $5,000 in damages for her lost property.
“The client was thrilled – but it took a little while to get there,” Tracey added.
Tracey is not only an advocate for her pro bono clients – she is also an advocate for pro bono at Stinson. She is a member of the firm’s pro bono committee and has successfully recruited other attorneys to take pro bono matters. “People don’t realize what a difference they could make – with one case a year, even,” Tracey said.
For Tracey, the secret to involving more attorneys in pro bono is highlighting the need. “The need is never-ending. Some people hold back because they say it’s just a drop in the bucket. But in a housing case, it’s whether someone has a place to go back to sleep that night. In a family law case, whether a parent is allowed to stay with their children. It still really makes a difference.”
The Pro Bono Center is grateful for Tracey’s commitment to advancing justice, and we know that she will continue to be a tireless advocate for pro bono clients – and pro bono work – for years to come.
Connie Sinclair is the Development Specialist for the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center.