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Pro Bono Net

Lawyers serving the public good.

Oct. 25 - Enduring Memories, Melissa Francis, Associate, Mayer Brown

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Today's post comes from Melissa Francis, an Associate at Mayer Brown.


While some memories may fade over time, a few manage to remain just as vivid as the very day they were embedded.


For me, such enduring memories seem commonplace when reflecting upon my first pro bono asylum case, in which I represented Abdul, a 28 year-old man who escaped from President Deby's totalitarian regime in Chad. While serving as a volunteer teacher there, Abdul was falsely accused of being a rebel and kidnapped at gunpoint by government security forces. He was taken to a secret underground prison and tortured over the course of two weeks with some of the most barbaric instruments imaginable. While doing forced labor at the prison, Abdul somehow managed to escape through an adjacent forest and, with the use of family connections, go into hiding and ultimately flee to the United States. Many of his family members were not so lucky; they were either forcibly exiled or killed.


I remember, as a junior associate, standing in the courtroom at the end of my first two-day trial when the Judge turned to Abdul and told him that he could remain in our country and that the government would be waiving any appeal. I wish you could have seen Abdul's reaction when he grasped the magnitude of those words, which effectively meant that he would not be sent home to die. He was beyond excited as well as incredibly grateful. Even years later, his excitement and gratitude have yet to dissipate, and I suspect that they never will.


While Abdul's reaction is rather difficult for me to fully reduce to words, my reaction is considerably easier to explain. In a word, it was dramatic. So much so, in fact, that the Judge actually instructed me to approach the bench after his ruling and said, loud enough for everyone in the courtroom to hear, "Ms. Francis, people are not supposed to cry in my courtroom when they win!"


Since then, I have given considerable thought as to what made me so emotional that day. I was so emotional because, from a professional standpoint, this was my first trial and my first win at Mayer Brown. But I was particularly moved because I felt, for the first time in my life, like I had potentially saved someone's life, and because I knew that I had discovered an area of the law separate and apart from my daily legal practice that I was passionate about and that made me feel good at the end of the day.


Regardless of our respective legal specializations or where our individual passions lie, there is undoubtedly some form of pro bono work that each of us will find meaningful and personally rewarding. While successfully representing Abdul has encouraged me to advocate on behalf of asylum applicants, asylum work is merely one of many forms of pro bono work. Whatever your background and interests, I encourage you to find a pro bono project that inspires you and to pursue it. There are countless people in dire need of our professional services right now, and taking some time to advocate for the disadvantaged will create memories certain to last a lifetime.


Please devote some of your time and get involved.

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