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TCL > April 1999 Issue > The Adventures of a Paralegal

April 1999       Vol. 28, No. 4       Page  33
Pro Bono Success Stories

The Adventures of a Paralegal
by Gary Stephens, Sue Corning

In 1984, when I retired from teaching at Adams State College in Alamosa, I became the director of the Alamosa Senior Center. At that time I became acquainted with the San Luis Valley Bar Association Pro Bono Project ("Project") and have been active ever since. I began by volunteering as an intake counselor for the Project’s "Thursday Night Bar" walk-in advice clinic. Moreover, I have served as treasurer for the Project for the past ten years.

I decided that I could be of more assistance to the attorneys who gave their time to the community if I had some type of legal training. In October 1994, the Blackstone School of Law in Dallas, Texas certified me as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal. A local attorney, Amanda Pearson, closely supervises my work and, when the work has needed completion by an attorney, she has most graciously continued with a case that I had begun but was unable to finish.

The majority of my work with the Project has been with the Conejos County Public Health Department. I meet with homebound clients and complete advanced directives, simple wills, and related matters. My services are done pro bono, and I limit my practice to assisting the elderly and homebound. As a notary, I am able to take documents to the home for signatures and, with the proper witnesses, notarize documents for clients at no cost.

The rewards of my work are the people that I meet. Unfortunately, many of these friendships are short, since my clients usually have grave health problems. However, in their beautiful rural homes, I make friendships not easily found in other places.

There have been surprises and humorous moments. In one case assigned to me by the San Luis Valley Bar Association Pro Bono Project, two sisters wanted legal assistance for their elderly father who was unable to leave his home. On entering the home, I was welcomed by a tiny little man. As we sat at the kitchen table preparing to start the business portion of the visit, he reached into his back pocket and brought out a pistol, which he then placed on the table. At that moment my only thought was that not only was I going to be shot, but that I had neglected to tell anyone where I had gone and no one would know!

When my heart finally settled down to a normal pace, I learned that the pistol was not intended for defensive or coercive purposes; it was intended as payment for my services. I graciously (I hope) explained that I could not accept payment, while I slowly slid the weapon across the table and back toward the client. When I told my daughter about the incident, she encouraged me to explain to him next time that "cookies will do."

I work with Sue Corning of the San Luis Valley Bar Association Pro Bono Project, and I am grateful for her guidance and direction in my work with the Project. The attorneys with whom I am associated respect me for what I am able to contribute and continue to be extremely helpful in their supervision and assistance.

The San Luis Bar Association Pro Bono Project is alive and well, thanks to the generous contributions of COLTAF and the individual members of the San Luis Valley Bar Association.

This department is edited by Jo Ann Viola Salazar, CBA Director of Public and Legal Services. Submission of success stories is welcome. contact Jo Ann at (303) 824-5310 or (800) 332-6736.

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