“One of my personal and professional goals has always been to dedicate a portion of my time volunteering.”
Anna Sanyal has remained true to this objective since joining our pro bono program in 2013. A 2012 Capital Law Graduate, Anna regularly volunteers with brief advice clinics at the YWCA Family Center and Hilltop Run the Race Club. As a first generation Indian American, Anna was raised in an immigrant family that espoused the Horatio Alger “bootstraps” worldview based on the core premise that “in this country, anything is possible through hard work, grit, and determination.” Despite this focus on individual attainment, Anna’s desire to give back to her community can be traced back to one life-altering experience: “At my first job after college, I took a ‘Bridges out of Poverty’ course, which single-handedly changed my worldview forever. I realized that despite being a hard worker, without the proper education, guidance, and resources, it is hard to break the cycle of generational poverty. More importantly, I learned that we all need to support each other during times of need in order to have a vibrant and successful community.”
Anna has witnessed the impact that the brief advice clinics have on the lives of people in poverty: “I honestly believe that [the advice] empowers them. Often, low-income clients feel a little betrayed by the community they live in and the apparent lack of resources. As many in this line of work know, there is often a lack of knowledge about social support programs amongst the very population they seek to serve. As a result, LASC’s programs perform the very important role of bridging the gap between the available resources and funneling them to the appropriate people.”
Although tacking on a couple hours to the end of a rough work day is not easy, Anna acknowledges that the pro bono work gives her perspective. She explains, “When I show up at a legal clinic, I may have had a terrible day. For example, recently, during a clinic night, I had a flat tire, a rotator cuff injury, and a migraine from working a very long day. I did not want to be there. But slowly, as I started interviewing my clients and discussing potential solutions with them, all these other nagging issues in my life simply disappeared. I was just glad to be there and to have resources that I could share so that my clients could develop positive outcomes of their own.”
To ensure she doesn’t overwhelm herself, Anna holds herself to a reasonable expectation: “I make a realistic time commitment that I can actually honor. For me, that is usually one or two nights a month.” And don’t worry: pro bono has not overtaken her personal life. In fact, she still finds time to “cook, practice yoga, plan elaborate vacations (that may or may not happen), write Yelp! reviews, and watch a lot of bad TV.”
Anna is sensitive to the concerns shared by many attorneys who feel they do not have the requisite poverty law experience, but she encourages them nonetheless. “The issues that the clients bring forward in the legal clinics are often easy to parse through with simple research conducted on site during the interview. Most of us bring our laptops and iPads to the clinics and free WiFi is available. If you went to law school, you’re already a pro at research!” She also encourages hesitant attorneys to attend LASC’s free CLEs or shadow more “seasoned” volunteers.
Anna’s efforts have brought peace of mind, practical legal education, and empowerment to the low-income and homeless clients she serves, but she notes that volunteering has had a positive impact on her as well: “My pro bono experience makes me grateful for what I do have (a home, a supportive partner, an ornery cat, amazing friends, and a great education) and the fact that I can share some of my good luck with others.”
LASC is fortunate to partner with many new attorneys like Anna. In 2014, 99 new attorneys volunteered, donating more than 2800 hours to our program.
To learn more about LASC’s clinic opportunities and other programs that are ideal for newer attorneys, visit our Get Involved section.