OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

We can’t go back and prevent the violence

But we can help them put their lives back together.

We won’t save everyone.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

One year ago, Kelsey Williams opened up a brand-new legal clinic in Los Angeles.  Working closely with O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, as well as a group of dedicated legal services nonprofits, she launched the “IMPACT LA” project to offer a free, monthly legal clinic for domestic violence survivors, held at the Jenessee Center (a domestic violence intervention nonprofit) and staffed 100% by pro bono volunteers.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and so we asked Kelsey to share her experience starting and running this new project that provides free assistance to survivors facing pressing legal problems relating to immigration, public benefits, and housing.

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Guest Blogger: Kelsey Williams, Loyola Law School Post-Graduate Public Interest Law Fellow at OneJustice

I have a confession.

Kelsey Williams

Kelsey Williams, Loyola Law School Post-Graduate Public Interest Law Fellow at OneJustice

I was more than a little scared to run the IMPACT LA project. “Terrified” might be a better word. Developing any new program is intimidating, but the domestic violence focus raised the stakes even higher. I worried I wouldn’t do it justice. The learning curve was steep; I wanted the first clinic to be perfect, a seamless experience for our survivors and volunteers. I had to learn quickly and lean on our amazing partner, Jenesse Center.

In the first year of my fellowship, I’ve learned a lot of lessons: to be constantly improving is better than being perfect, and that each day brings another lesson to be learned. One day can be heartbreaking and the next, life affirming. Some lessons come easy –you can never have too many notepads; others, definitely less so– a project like IMPACT LA does not and should not get easier.

The first lesson came not in the office or at the clinic but outside of work. It’s the part of my job I was least prepared for, equivocally. It was the stories.

Lesson one: make no assumptions.

Nothing could prepare me for the most common reaction I get when I explain my work to someone – it’s a story. Maybe it’s about a friend or family member. Usually, it is about the person to whom I’m speaking. And they all start the same way, “you wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but – here’s my story. I’m a survivor.”

“One day can be heartbreaking and the next, life affirming.”

And in the beginning, they were always right. I never would have suspected them to be a survivor of domestic violence. While there is no one type of survivor, I simply didn’t realize just how many people in my personal, professional, and daily life had been impacted by violence in the home.

Of course, just based on the numbers, it’s inevitable that I know someone who has been personally impacted by domestic violence. But statistics are hard to translate into the faces of the people you see everyday. You know them too. Maybe they haven’t shared with you, but they are there. Learning that domestic violence lives among all of us made it more difficult to learn the next lesson.

Lesson two: if you do this work, you won’t save everyone. I can’t, you can’t, but that doesn’t mean we should not try.

The men and women we work with feel the impact of domestic violence long after any physical assault ends. They come to IMPACT LA because they are living with the consequences of abuse.

We worked this year with a woman who left a violent situation more than five years ago who is still untangling legal repercussions and working every day to get things back on track. To restore the future her family should have had until abuse entered their lives. We can’t go back and prevent what happened to her family. But we can try to help her now.

The majority of individuals come in to untangle the legal repercussions of the abuse they have endured. Removed from the violence they are able to regain control of their lives with the help of our volunteers and partners. But, sometimes it’s not enough.

I know now that I can’t save everyone. What I can do is carry the memory of their stories and experiences with me. I hold them in my heart as a reminder and a guide for the hard days.

The more I learn about the reality and prevalence of domestic violence, the more optimistic I become. Our world need not be full of future victims and survivors of domestic violence. IMPACT LA and great projects like Jenesse’s Youth Conversations are trying to bring an end to domestic abuse through education and awareness.

Two IMPACT LA volunteers who staffed the free clinic at the Jenesse Center on Valentine’s Day 2014.

I’m so grateful to all of these survivors who have opened their hearts to me and the strong individuals working with me to end domestic violence. The work that we do with the Jenesse Center at IMPACT LA is important. And we couldn’t do it without our supporters, volunteers, partners, and brave survivors.

Working together, we can save and rebuild lives.

If you or someone you know needs help – please reach out. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

 

Our most heartfelt gratitude to the amazing staff at the Jenessee Center, our legal services partners, Bet Tzedek Legal ServicesCentral American Resource CenterInner City Law CenterLegal Aid Foundation of Los AngelesLevitt & Quinn Family Law CenterNeighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Public Counsel Law Center, and all the dedicated volunteers from, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLPJones DayKilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLPLatham & Watkins LLPManatt, Phelps & Phillips LLPMorgan, Lewis & Bockius LLPMorrison & Foerster LLPNixon Peabody LLPO’Melveny & Myers LLPOrrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLPSimpson Thacher & Bartlett LLPToyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.White & Case LLP, and Winston & Strawn LLP.

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IMPACT LA is part of the national IMPACT (Involving More Pro bono Attorneys in our Community Together) project of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo), which is a series of new collaborations across the country to expand national law firm efforts to increase access to justice.  OneJustice is honored and thrilled to be working together with APBCo on the IMPACT LA Project.

One response to “We can’t go back and prevent the violence

  1. Pingback: Q: Where can you find a dim sum enthusiast and an avid knitter? | OneJustice Blog

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