Sondra and Paul Bryson of Bryson Legal, LLC are proof that married couples can live and work together. Their firm, which focuses on bankruptcy, estate planning, dispute resolution, and small businessâ€”serves as an excellent example of how small firm practitioners can use the pro bono and reduced fee opportunities afforded by the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) to gain skills and develop professionally.
A bankruptcy attorney who was drawn to the law as a helping profession, Sondra joined the Chapter 7 Pro Bono Project after attending a CBA Bankruptcy committee presentation by Judge John Hoffman and LASCâ€™s Melissa Linville. After a few months, she joined the Legal Aid Reduced Fee Referral Project (LARP), which sends out reduced fee Chapter 7 and uncontested divorce cases. LARPâ€™s regular referrals and modest fees can help small firm or solo practitioners as they build their practices. â€śIt is not as difficult as it might seem to take on pro bono,â€ť she acknowledges. â€śLegal Aid really helps to make sure the cases are done in an efficient manner. We donâ€™t have a staff so when I first started, I was worried that I couldnâ€™t maintain the practice and volunteer.â€ť Sondraâ€™s experience should serve as a comfort to those newer attorneys who share this concern: â€śI filed six pro bono bankruptcies last year, and we were still able to run the office. Itâ€™s doable.â€ť
Raised in the Northland neighborhood, Paul was initially drawn to pro bono because it gave him the opportunity to give back to his community, but his motivations broadened as his career evolved. Before entering the private practice with Sondra, Paul worked for a common pleas judge and then in-house. His initial participation in the Northland brief advice clinic helped him hone his client interviewing skills. Soon Paul expanded his involvement by joining two other LASC programs: the Volunteer Resource Center (VRC) housing project, which refers pro bono eviction cases, and the LARP Domestic project. The VRC eviction cases gave him court experience, and the reduced fee divorce referrals introduced him to a new substantive area.
Paul and Sondraâ€™s pro bono experiences reveal how invested non-paying clients can be when certain critical needs are at stake. Paul reflects that the pro bono clients are actually the most thankful. He met one particularly grateful client during an LASC brief advice clinic. The client was struggling with a landlord who had failed to maintain her rental housing or return her security deposit. Paul agreed to represent her in a small claims case she had filed pro se. After the representation, he received a beautiful thank you card. â€śShe was an immigrant, and our legal system was very different than what she was used to. The assistance made her feel like she could have faith in the system.â€ť Sondra agrees that the bankruptcy pro bono work is equally fulfilling: â€śIt is so great to see how you can impact someoneâ€™s lifeâ€”whether itâ€™s stopping a wage garnishment or reinstating someoneâ€™s utilities during a brutally cold week.â€ť
LASC pro bono projects also offer flexibility and other non-tangible benefits to volunteers: â€śPick a brief advice clinic that is convenient for you and try it out,â€ť Paul recommends. â€śYou are not bound to it forever. One project may not be for you, but there is enough out there that you can find something that fits for you.â€ť Pro bono also offers attorneys a fun way to interact with others from different practice or geographic areas. Paul has enjoyed the opportunity to meet others with a shared interest, â€śbut it doesnâ€™t feel like a networking event.â€ť
Despite the demands of parenthood and sustaining a practice, Sondra and Paul collectively donated nearly fifty hours of pro bono time to LASC in 2014 and almost 100 in 2015. Thank you, Bryson Legal!