The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 22-28). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.
Gracie Wood, a third-year law student at Baylor Law SchoolAs a busy law student, Austin native Gracie Wood still finds time to enjoy activities and serve as president of the Baylor Law School Student Bar Association, president of the Baylor Public Interest Legal Society, and a member of the Baylor Law Review. She plans to practice family law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
The bulk of my pro bono hours come from my involvement with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, or CASA. I was trained as a court appointed special advocate in undergrad, and my first case finished the week before I started law school. I was unsure if I wanted to take a new case as a 1L in law school, but I decided the organization and the kids I represent were just too important to me to let law school stand in the way. I am wrapping up my third case and am about to take my fourth. While at Baylor Law, I also have been involved with Adoption Day, fundraising for legal services for veterans, and supporting a local elementary school through SBA and our Public Interest Legal Society.
Why is pro bono important to you?
Because of the expense of legal representation, there are a lot of people who need services or advocacy that can’t afford it. Policy can also cause the underrepresentation of various groups. Obviously with CASA, I represent the best interest of the children during a case affecting parental rights. The foster care system is a place where it’s easy for children and their interests to be underrepresented. In all of my cases, I have felt like I made a difference in the ultimate outcome.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
Even in my busiest times of law school (like 3L year at Baylor when I am participating in the rigorous practice court program), I believe I can make time for what is important to me. I think this should be a lesson for my career.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
I highly encourage other students to participate in pro bono. If you have the opportunity to be involved with an organization like CASA (or whatever you are passionate about), not only can you make a difference in the lives of others, but you can also gain invaluable experience for your career. During participation in CASA, I have been cross-examined by attorneys, written reports that were filed with the courts, and learned how to interact with judges and various parties to the case. No classroom could have provided me the exposure to the courtroom and lessons I have learned throughout my CASA cases.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I have had many memorable moments in my various pro bono involvement and with the 10 kiddos I have had the opportunity to represent as their advocate over the last three to three-and-a-half years. I am touched and flattered every time foster parents or attorneys and caseworkers on the case tells me they appreciate what I am doing for the kids, but the most memorable comment came from one of my children this past year. She is a tough cookie and puts out a really tough exterior—not letting many people in. About 10 to 11 months into our case I got a phone call from her foster mom who said the child wanted to talk to me “because I was the only one she trusted.” While this was absolutely heartbreaking to hear because it meant there were so many people she didn’t trust, it reminded me of the importance of what I do. I would rather have a child have one person he or she can trust then have none.