Abigail Fleming is an attorney at Fleming Law Office in Peoria and Chair of the Young Lawyers Subcommittee of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. Abigail has been instrumental in developing and growing the Tenth Judicial Circuit Self-Represented Litigant Help Desks by volunteering herself and recruiting other volunteers.
How did you first get involved with the Help Desks?
I serve on the Tenth Judicial Circuit Committee that started the Peoria and Tazewell County Help Desks and was part of the first core group of volunteers to start this project. We wanted to start the Help Desks to address some of the requests for bite-sized volunteer opportunities and also to address the growing need in our community for pro bono legal services.
Why did you want to volunteer?
If you want to see a change in your community, it has to start with you. My mom always instilled in me how important it is to give back to your community and help those who are in need, but that you must lead by example. I try to make volunteering a part of my routine– setting aside some time each month to give back in one fashion or another. When you approach volunteering like a part of your regular routine, you don’t see giving up your time as burdensome, but you look forward to an opportunity to change someone else’s life for the better.
What do you enjoy about this volunteer opportunity?
I enjoy volunteering for the Help Desks because it provides a rare opportunity to help many people in need (typically 4-5 people) in a very small amount of time (2 hours) during each session. I often assist in drafting pleadings/motions, notices, proposed orders, or other court documents, or just providing basic legal advice. The clients may have been told, “No,” by many other individuals. You may be the first person to tell them, “Yes, I can help you,” even if it is for a short period of time. This means a lot to our clients.
When you assist a pro se client who has an active or future pending case, your expertise ends up not only helping the individual, but also helping the circuit clerk and courts run more smoothly, aids the Judges with managing the case, and limits the amount of cases that may need to go through intake at the local pro bono service centers. Your help has a tremendous impact.
What advice would you have for someone interested in volunteering?
Many volunteer attorneys have told me that they don’t feel they have enough expertise in certain areas to be comfortable volunteering. If you completed 4 years of undergraduate studies, 3 years of law school, and passed a State Bar Exam, you have expertise to share. You may compare yourselves to other experts in your field, but pro se individuals are often looking for answers to basic questions, or want direction on Form Pleadings. You are absolutely qualified and able to give back. Please do not forget that you have the power to give back in a small way (volunteering at a Help Desk or Wills Clinic), or in a larger way (taking an entire case start to finish). If every lawyer in our community took on a small volunteer opportunity here or there during the year, we would see a much more efficient legal system and greater fulfillment of the need in the area. Please give it a try – you won’t regret that you did.
Learn more about PILI’s Pro Bono Opportunities here »