Volunteers of Legal Service's School-based Children's Project builds relationships between public schools and law firms. The firms provide pro bono legal assistance to families at the schools to resolve issues that threaten to disrupt children's education.
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson is one of seven law firms that participate in the project. This year, Fried Frank volunteers were able to help an incredible woman who made a choice that few of us would have the generosity to make, and fewer would have the persistence and compassion to carry out.
The lawyers at Fried Frank made my family complete. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to work with them. Without them, I don't know what would have happened. My gratitude to Erica Markowitz and her team is immense. They were a godsend.
Lisa*, 2013 VOLS Children's Project Client
In early 2002, Lisa's friend Muriel introduced her to Tammy, a homeless, pregnant woman who was addicted to drugs. Lisa works at a shelter for homeless families, and she offered to coach Tammy through the process of entering the shelter system and finding some kind of housing. Unfortunately, Tammy didn't follow through.
Tammy gave birth to a boy, Zeke, while she was still homeless and constantly moving from one dangerous housing situation to another. She had a hard time taking care of Zeke, and, according to Lisa, kept "leaving him with people who she shouldn't have." Lisa helped out as much as she could. Just over a year before, she had given birth to a baby boy who died a day later, so it was difficult for her to see Jack in such risky situations.
A few weeks later, Muriel called Lisa from the park. Tammy had just handed Zeke to her, and asked her to give the baby to Lisa. Lisa already had three daughters, and she also spent all of her time at work serving homeless families. Most people would have said that this was simply too much to ask. But not Lisa. She immediately took Zeke in. Tammy consented to give Lisa guardianship of Zeke, and then left – for good. She didn't say where she was going, and she didn't give Lisa any way to contact her.
For the next eight years, Lisa raised Zeke as her own, but she was not his legal parent. This caused constant problems with school and government officials. Lisa knew that she wanted to adopt Zeke, but was she was daunted by the difficulty and expense.
Then one day, Zeke brought home a booklet from his school listing all the services available to families. Lisa was elated to see that these included legal assistance. She told Fried Frank lawyers her story at a clinic held at the school, and the firm agreed to help her adopt Zeke. Fried Frank associates Erica Markowitz and Crystal Doyle worked on the adoption, under the guidance of partner Janice Mac Avoy and Special Counsel Jennifer Colyer.
It took months to find Tammy, the birth mother. Tammy consented to the adoption, but told the Fried Frank attorneys that she had used an alias on Zeke's birth certificate. There was no documentary evidence that Tammy was Zeke's birth mother. The Fried Frank volunteers had to convince Tammy to submit to a DNA test. She did, and the test proved that she is Zeke's biological mother. Fried Frank submitted the evidence, and in 2013, the court granted Lisa's petition to adopt Zeke. Though Lisa made Zeke a member of the family from day one, due to the efforts of the Fried Frank volunteers, now it's official.
Describing her experience volunteering in VOLS' Children's Project, Erica Markowitz said:
I appreciated getting to know Lisa in the office and connecting with her family at their home. She is an admirable woman with strength of character. Among the many lessons I have I learned while practicing law, I value the lessons of self-sacrifice, charity and idealism that I learned from Lisa.
*Lisa, Tammy, Muriel, and Zeke are pseudonyms