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Big Switch: Kilpatrick Gets New Pro Bono Partner

AVLF's deputy director, Tamara Caldas, takes pro bono job at Kilpatrick as Debbie Segal retires

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Photo of Debbie Segal, left, came to Kilpatrick from AVLF in 2001 and heads an effort that generates 33,000 pro bono hours annually. Tamera Caldas, right, sees “expansive” possibilities.
Debbie Segal, left, came to Kilpatrick from AVLF in 2001 and heads an effort that generates 33,000 pro bono hours annually. Tamera Caldas, right, sees "expansive" possibilities.

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton is getting a new pro bono partner: Tamara Caldas, the deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.

Caldas replaces Debbie Segal, who will retire from the role at year-end but stay at Kilpatrick as of counsel. Segalhe said she'll continue handling protective order cases for AVLF and working as special adviser for the ABA's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence. She also plans to start a small venture selling jewelry that she makes, a hobby for many years.

Segal became Kilpatrick's first designated pro bono lawyer in 2001, starting as counsel and making partner about a year later. Like Caldas, she joined from AVLF, where she had been executive director.

"This is my baby. Handing it off to Tamara is a real treat," she said. "I couldn't be more thrilled. The firm is serious about pro bono and she's as good as it gets."

"This is so much a relationship job, both within the firm and with the [legal services] providers. It's crystal clear that Tamara has that. It's not forced, it comes easily with her," Segal said.

Caldas has spent her career representing poor people at nonprofits with shoestring budgets, so having a large firm's resources for pro bono is new. She will oversee pro bono cases for the 590 lawyers in Kilpatrick's 14 U.S. offices.

"I have an expansive sense of possibility," Caldas said.

After law school at the University of Texas and a federal clerkship, Caldas turned down a job at O'Melveny & Myers in Washington to join the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, where she spent almost six years suing prisons and jails over prisoner mistreatment and poor conditions. After having her first child, she briefly tried private practice at a family law firm, then became AVLF's first staff attorney in 2005—the only full-time lawyer there at the time besides the executive director, Martin Ellin. He promoted her to deputy director in 2010.

Her last day at AVLF was Friday. In such a lean organization, with nine lawyers and staff and a $1 million budget, Ellin said, Caldas was involved in all of the group's pro bono programs.

"She's smart and curious. She does everything she's supposed to do and fills in the holes," Ellin said. That intangible is hard to replace, he added.

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