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 24-30). 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.
Rosa M. Peterson is a 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I am involved in multiple pro bono projects here at St. Mary’s and have been since the middle of my first semester of 1L year. I have had the honor of participating in workshops with varying focuses including expunction, veterans’ rights, pro se divorce, wills, psychiatric advance directives, alternatives to guardianship, ID recovery, and immigration.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I believe that it is a gift and a privilege to attend law school. I am a Hispanic, first generation, single mother, and I know the sacrifices my family has made to get me here, and I made a promise that if I was able to attend law school, I would give back to the community every chance I could. It is very easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle that is law school, and pro bono is the opportunity for me to remind myself why I began this journey and why it is so important for me to finish. Being an attorney is a life of service to others, and I love being able to use my privilege, and my gift, to better the lives of those around me.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
Beyond the hands-on experience of working with legal documents and filings, I’ve learned humility, patience, gratitude, and perseverance. I have learned to look at a situation and analyze it critically from multiple angles to see if there is a way that the issue can be solved. I am grateful to the individuals who receive pro bono services for trusting in me, as a law student under the supervision of an attorney, to help them. I know that no matter what, each person has left me better and helped mold me and prepare me for life beyond law school. A life of service, filled with compassion toward others, which is something our world needs more of.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
If a fellow student asks me about doing pro bono for the first time, I would enthusiastically encourage them to go for it. There are multiple benefits to working in different pro bono workshops. You gain hands-on experience, you get to work with attorneys and judges on real-world issues, most importantly you learn how to communicate with clients in a variety of situations, all things which are important to your future success. Further, you get to make an impact, well before you leave law school. Nothing beats the feeling of helping another individual work through an issue they are facing. As you work in pro bono workshops, you will also be able to gain a sense of which area of law you are meant to be in. I often tell students that as a pro bono program student coordinator, I get to help students fall in love with law. Truly, that is what pro bono does, it allows you to experience different areas of the law and find your passion.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
The truth is that every single pro bono story is a success story, even when we may not receive the results we are hoping for. Kindness costs nothing, and the world needs more of it. It is always beautiful to see attorneys, judges, and law students working in tandem to reach out to individuals in need and help them with no strings attached. There are no catches, no hidden surprises, just people helping people. Using the gift they have to ensure that there is access to the legal justice system, and providing something our world needs more of … hope.