Imagine having to, alongside your family, live in your car for nearly two years. Everything you’ve worked for your entire life has been lost and shortly thereafter, you lose a loved one.
When local attorney Jeanne Walser met a recent pro bono client, this was precisely the plight. Walser’s client was a 63-year-old woman who had, less than a month prior, lost her husband of 40 years.
Prior to her husband’s passing, the woman, her husband and son had spent the past two years living out of the family’s car. “She touched my heart immediately,” said Walser.
The client, whom Walser describes as a “brilliant, sweet and energetic” woman, had fallen upon hard times after her family relocated from Iowa to the Southeast for an employment opportunity.
The company for which her husband worked for years closed its doors, Walser explained. The woman and her husband, who had worked their entire adult lives, as well as their son, suddenly found themselves forced to live on the streets, unable to stay afloat in today’s ailing economy.
Walser, who has been involved with pro bono work since her time as a student at Florida Costal School of Law, was able to provide some much-needed financial relief for her client through successfully filing a summary administration in probate.
The filing sought to grant the client access to the nearly $1,400 her deceased husband had in a savings account at a local credit union. The client had been denied access to these funds because she was either not expressly named as a beneficiary on the account or the paperwork had possibly been lost during the credit union’s transfer of ownership.
Taking on the case pro bono, Walser was able to get the client her money quickly as well as save her client the stress of having to pay attorney’s fees.
“This $1,400, which may not seem like much money, is a fortune for someone who was forced to live on the streets,” said Walser. “She needed this money.”
Overall, Walser believes she benefited just as much as her client from this experience. “In addition to getting to know and help a wonderful woman, I also learned something from her,” she said.
While working with the client to help her attain her share of her husband’s estate, Walser admittedly also attempted to “help her change her life the way (Walser) believed it should be.”
However, one morning, her client explained to her that she was going to be OK and not only that — she was happy. Walser learned a life-changing lesson from this:
“I’ve learned that as a lawyer we should always advise and counsel our clients in accordance with what is in their best interest; however, as a human being we should also realize that what we want for our client is not necessarily what our clients want for themselves.”
Walser is a recent graduate of Florida Coastal School of Law. Previously, she earned her MBA from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently building a general civil and commercial practice.
Attorneys interested in assisting persons in need with pro bono legal representation are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman of The JBA Pro Bono Committee, at [email protected].