Dignity in Court

Access Justice Courts
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m making a difference, regardless of the work I do and the passion and caring I put into it, but regardless of the outcome, when I stand next to that child in court, I remember I’m helping him or her maintain their dignity. Just by standing with them.”

I’m paraphrasing the words of Angela Vigil, Baker & McKenzie’s Executive Director, during her acceptance speech at the 2016 ABA Solo & Small Firm Summit in Cincinnati when receiving an award for Making a Difference through Pro Bono Work.

Dignity.

It’s the word that meant the most to me during the conference. Not the impressive array of speakers, not my presentation, not the wonderful people I met and hung out with. One word. Dignity.

I thought about the impact (or lack of which) I was having during this past summer volunteering with the New York State Court’s access to justice program.

As a Court Navigator, I was assigned to housing court where the hallway free-for-all often get chaotic and overwhelming. We’re there to listen and assist and guide, even stand with litigants in court, without offering legal advice. I interacted with scores of individuals facing challenging situations including the loss of their home and couldn’t help but wonder if I was making a difference, especially when the outcome was less than desirable. Listening to Angela Vigil talk about dignity hit home.

It was a reminder that whatever you do–representing a client or engaging in access to justice efforts by standing with them in court when the blindfold on Lady Justice loosens–know you’re making a difference, even when it seems like nothing has changed or gone the way you wanted. At that moment, you’re helping someone maintain his or her dignity.

Editors note: This is a departure from our usual actionable-oriented posts but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer encouragement and an acknowledgement of the service lawyers and those involved in the access to justice movement provide.

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