May 2018 – Kate Cook

In the short time since Kate Cook joined MVLS as a volunteer in June 2017, she has made a big impression on our staff with her commitment to providing pro bono legal help to our clients. While the majority of her cases have been expungement-related, Kate is also interested in handling adoption, adult guardianship, name changes, and assistance with estate planning. 

As far as expungement cases, Kate has taken on a number of expungement cases that fall into a “grey area,” that would have been very easy to simply close as “not possible,” but she pursued them anyway. In one particular instance, Kate investigated a “no finding” disposition and pursued getting a case of possible mistaken identity off of a client’s record.  In addition, Kate was also one of the first volunteers to accept a client from an Expungement Clinic who had a large number of complicated petitions that needed to be reviewed and filed. She continued to work tirelessly with this client until they reached resolution.

From the numerous stories told by MVLS staff members, it’s clear to see that Kate deeply cares for her clients and is extremely dedicated to finding the best possible solution for their well-being. You can read on below to learn more about why Kate feels drawn to pro bono work.

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS?

MVLS clinics are well organized, and there is administrative support for volunteers. There are good training opportunities.   There is malpractice insurance coverage.

 Do you have any stand out stories?

At estate planning clinics, I meet older clients who are coming near to the end of their lives.  I think of some of them sometimes – for example, a long married couple, the husband had lost his sight.  They were so kind to each other. In contrast, another client wanted his will drafted in a way that was guaranteed to stir up ill feelings among his children.  He knew it, too, and persevered in spite of my advice. These stories don’t stand out in terms of drama or legal challenge. They just show the human spirit.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?

I really like working one-on-one with clients.  I have spent my legal career mostly in government positions where my “client” was the State of New York or a federal agency.  It is great to connect with individual clients, and to feel like I am using my legal skills to do something of value for them – an expungement, a will and other estate planning documents, or advice about responding to a Tax Sale notice.  I also like the opportunity to work in a new area of practice, with the support of MVLS training programs and mentors.  

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?

As lawyers, we have to put up with snide lawyer jokes.  It’s easy to internalize some of the negativity that motivates those jokes.  But we lawyers have skills that we can use to help people. When we work with MVLS clients, we can fix problems, and make a difference in a person’s life.  That is a very good thing.

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