Volunteer of the Month – December 2022
Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and the Law at the SMU Dedman School of Law.
- How did you first get involved in pro bono?
I have been a law professor for 24 years and always written a lot of pro bono amicus briefs in areas related to my research and teaching. It wasn’t until I moved to Dallas in 2016 that I started to get involved in pro bono representation of individual clients. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to use my skills to help people with legal problems.
- What types of cases have you accepted?
I have accepted cases from DVAP involving divorce, parental rights and custody, estate planning, probate, and affidavits of heirship. From other sources, I have also worked on cases involving the emancipation of minors, paternity and child support, and non-parent custody challenges.
- Describe your most compelling pro bono case.
I find many of them compelling because even when doing a relatively simple case, you get a window into people’s lives, which are often complicated. I did one case recently for a 30-year-old woman who had taken in her two teenage half-sisters when their mother died of Covid. We were able to establish her as the sole managing conservator for the two girls and give them some security as a legally recognized family. I have also represented a teen mom, first to remove the disabilities of minority and then to get back her child from a meddling relative.
- Why do you do pro bono?
As the saying goes, with great privilege comes great responsibility. There are many inequities in our society, and access to justice is no exception. Lawyers have a duty to help people without the means to hire lawyers. But I benefit as much from the experience as the clients do. I love getting to meet new people, learn about their lives, and figure out how to help them.
- What impact has pro bono service had on your career?
Pro bono service has helped me learn more about how the law works in practice, which is an oft-neglected part of legal education. I’m a better classroom teacher because of my casework, and I have been able to get my students involved in pro bono cases, which helps instill in them the value of public service.