First Person: Even a $500 Win Can Change Lives
First person: Getting her security deposit back meant my client could pay her bills
Over the past 18 months, I have been fortunate enough to assist with two matters for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, both of which came to a successful resolution, and one of which was particularly meaningful in my career as a young attorney.
In June 2012, I participated in AVLF's Saturday Lawyer Program, which connects legal professionals with low-income individuals. I met a woman who had been evicted from her rental home after the landlord failed to pay the mortgage and the bank foreclosed on the property, leaving her scrambling to find housing. Despite causing the foreclosure and eviction, the landlord then refused to return the client's $500 security deposit. I agreed to help the woman recover her security deposit.
Working in a big law firm, it can become east to lose sight of the forest for the trees. For many people working at a law firm in Atlanta, poverty is an abstract concept. For better or worse, it is what we glimpse out the windows on the way to the airport, or what we read about in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I am as susceptible to this critique as anyone, but I have come to see that AVLF is an avenue by which those of us who are more fortunate can understand, in a real and powerful way, what it means to have less, and, more importantly, what we can do to assist others.
The case I handled for AVLF, although a dispute over only $500, meant the world to my client. To her, with no steady source of income, the security deposit was the difference between being able to pay her bills and having the lights shut off. After rounds of demand letters, the case went to trial in July 2013, with the landlord-defendant choosing to hire counsel rather than pay the $500 my client demanded. After a bench trial, the court awarded my client her full damages, recognizing that she was the victim of a scheme to take advantage of someone perceived as ignorant and helpless. As we left the courtroom with her young son in tow, she hugged me enthusiastically and thanked me for spending my time and energy on her "little old case." That kind of client feedback is what AVLF brings to being a lawyer in Atlanta.
AVLF's Saturday Lawyer Program, like its many efforts around the metro area, helps give context to what it means to be an attorney. It allows those of us with the resources and acumen to work within the system to help those who lack those same skills and opportunities. To many who read this, $500 is nice to have but not necessary. To those such as my client served by AVLF, $500 can truly mean the world.
I learned firsthand that being a resource to those who otherwise have none is rewarding on both a personal and professional level, and it is the kind of feeling that everyone should ensure is part of their practice. AVLF is how you make that happen.