If you’re feeling like your neighborhood is lacking a sense of community, look to the work being done by extraordinary people. I was given this opportunity recently when I sat down with legal aid attorney Mary Jane Kelly of the Legal Aid Office of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Doylestown.
Mary Jane received her law degree in the Baltimore area, but has been practicing law in Bucks County for the past 10 years. She specializes in family law, putting her in contact with several families facing crisis situations. This includes families about to lose custody of a child, women seeking legal protection from a violent partner, or even clearing a false criminal accusation that has prevented employment.
The work is endless, the caseload enormous, but very rewarding, Ms. Kelly says. She can clearly see the difference legal aid attorneys like herself can make in the lives of individuals and in the community.
As someone who is seriously considering becoming a legal aid attorney, I was particularly invested in my conversation with Ms. Kelly. As I am still an undergrad, hearing about Mary Jane’s experience allowed me to better understand the position.
The question I obsessed over the most was this: what is the lasting impact of the work of a legal aid attorney? What is the likelihood of a client someday returning with the same or similar problems? This was my greatest fear, that the work put in by a legal aid attorney could only be a temporary solution to problems in someone’s life. Mary Jane allowed me to see that this is unlikely. The work, I am told, does have a lasting impact on the lives of clients, and is even life-saving for some.
I ended my conversation with Ms. Mary Jane Kelly feeling that in the battle for social justice, legal aid attorneys are out on the front lines. It is a fight that is divided into tiny battlefields of towns and counties across the country. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Kelly, who has been fighting in our community in the same battle taking place across the entire nation.
About the Contributor: Kelly Schmidt is a sophomore at American University, studying economics. He graduated from Central Bucks High School-West in 2012. Kelly was born in Stratford, New Jersey, but moved to northern California when he was 3. Kelly moved back home in the summer of 2007, and now resides in Doylestown, Pennsylvania