Volunteer of the Month – January 2023
Jaha Thomas is a sole pracitioner.
- How did you first get involved with pro bono?
The initial reason that I got involved in pro bono was that it was a requirement for a group that I am a member of, the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator (TOJI). However, during the last six months, my reasoning has become personal, focused, and more purposeful. I realized that so many people have had to live with injustice because they did not have access to justice. I recognized early on that justice cannot be served one-sided.
- Describe your most compelling pro bono case
My most compelling pro bono case happens to have been my very first one. I represented an upstanding citizen who was down on her luck. She was facing eviction because she was an employee that was paid hourly and she caught Covid twice. Her employer did not provide sick days and required employees to quarantine if they were exposed to Covid. She did everything she could to pay her rent but since her job did not provide sick pay and did not allow her to go back to work, there was not anything that she could do. We had three hearings. The first two were continued, but in the third hearing, my client received an abatement of sixty days, which was just enough time for her to get a new job that respected their employees enough to provide accommodations and move to a different apartment. The joy and gratitude in her voice helped me understand DVAP’s mantra “billable hours for the soul.” I am very grateful to assist people that truly need it. It makes me very proud.
- Why do you do pro bono?
I’ve seen so many clients who made a minuscule mistake years ago and wanted to move onward and upward, but were forced to live frozen in time with that one mistake forever because there was not someone there to fight for their right to move forward. Those with access to justice are given tremendous liberty when it comes to mistakes, regardless of how violent or repetitive their mistakes may have been. Mostly, I recognize that justice should not be for “just us,” those that have financial access, but justice is literally, completely, and unequivocally for all, always.
- What impact has pro bono service had on your career?
Pro bono has given my private practice, Essence Law, a breath of life. All of my clients are referrals from people I served in a pro bono capacity. It was my impeccable customer service, non-judgmental demeanor, dedication, honesty, and transparency that lead new clients to me and I am beyond grateful.
- What is the most unexpected benefit you have received from doing pro bono?
The most unexpected benefit I received from doing pro bono was the feeling of gratification. I also find it refreshing to help someone who truly needs it and appreciates your efforts. That feeling gives me the superpower to pass kindness, empathy, and understanding forward. The secondary benefit that I received from doing pro bono is the opportunity to learn and practice a myriad of areas of law with accessible mentor attorneys. DVAP is amazing resource for the community and I am proud to serve.