HuffPost's Greatest Person Of The Day: Jenny Brody, Co-Founder Of The DC Volunteer Lawyers Project
HP: What changed?
JB: Having kids really changed me as a person. Before I just assumed I would work and be a mother. I was really surprised by how much I wanted to stay home with them. It's very hard to predict how you're going to feel about being a mom until it happens. Every woman is different. My time at home was wonderful; I don't regret it for a second.
HP: Fifteen years later, you're practicing again. But rather than representing corporations, you're working for free for under-privileged, low-income residents of D.C. Many are survivors of domestic abuse, or are children in high-conflict custody cases. How did this come about?
JB: By the time all three of my kids were in school, I wanted to do something professionally. I took a case pro bono, to see how I felt about it. I represented a teenage girl in foster care, an experience that turned out to be profoundly moving. She was incredibly courageous under very difficult circumstances. After being a mom for so long, I connected with her immediately and wanted to do anything I could to help her.
HP: How did the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project get started?
JB: Well, after that first case, I knew it was really worthwhile work. I had to keep doing it. Luckily soon thereafter I met two other mothers with similar goals, Karen Barcker Marcou and Marla Spindel. The three of us decided to put thought to action. We raised enough money to pay the numerous start-up costs associated with running a pro bono practice, and the DCVLP was born in January of 2008.
HP: How did you handle the switch from corporate law to family law?
JB: It was hard at first, but completely worth it. Around half of our cases deal with domestic violence. They are very difficult emotionally for the lawyer, but also really inspirational. We're meeting clients at a critical moment in their lives, and it's a courageous act for them to seek help to break free from domestic abuse. As a lawyer, being able to use your skills to help people in such a basic way is incredibly rewarding.
HP: How many lawyers were involved at first? How many are there now?
JB: Well at first it was just the three of us "mom lawyers." We grew to thirty parent-lawyers after we put notices up at our kids' schools. From there it grew by word of mouth. When the recession hit in 2009, a lot of lawyers were laid off, and a lot of recent law school graduates couldn't find work. We put an ad up on Idealist and a couple other sites and our numbers grew even more. Today we're up to 280 volunteer lawyers. Of those, I'd say about one-third are looking for paying work and the rest are from all over: stay-at-home moms, federal government attorneys, and retired lawyers.
HP: Do you have any advice for law students or attorneys today? Or for anyone thinking of changing careers, for that matter?
JB: It's really good to think in advance of how you're going to reconcile your career with having a family life or any life outside of your job. The demands of a profession in private practice law are overwhelming. People should know that their law career, or even any career, doesn't have to be a straight line. It's okay to take a break if you're able to. You can regroup. You can jump to another career track. You can be a parent.
HP: How can others get involved in what you've started?
JB: At the moment our organization just focuses on Washington, D.C., but the model could be replicated in other cities. I encourage others to get in touch with us if they're interested in starting similar organizations in other cities around the country. You can also support the Civil Gideon Movement. There should be a legal right to a publicly provided lawyer in civil cases dealing with things like family law, domestic violence, and shelter.
HP: Who inspires you?
JB: My clients are my biggest source of inspiration. My partners who do this work with me, also. I don't like the emphasis to be just on me, this is a group effort. We help each other, professionally and emotionally. We created something from nothing together.
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