A Ripple Effect: Meet Tommy Lopez, Esq., Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

October 22, 2018

Tommy Lopez- Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

           Pro bono work is voluntary; it is compassion, and it creates a ripple effect. As Tommy Lopez says, “I know that we can only help one person at a time, one family at a time, but if we keep up this work we are going to improve outcomes for an entire community, for an entire neighborhood, and that’s really how you spread justice.” Tommy’s commitment to his community is evident through his intersectional and pro bono advocacy. As a third-year associate with Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Tommy works in mergers and acquisitions while also wielding his law degree to help low-income families rise above the adversities that society has dealt them. Tommy’s all-encompassing commitment to pro bono work has impacted VOLS’ Immigration Project, Children’s Project, and Micro-enterprise Project. His contribution to VOLS’ work is recognized throughout our office and the clients we serve.

            By working alongside his community, Tommy recognizes the complexity of lived experiences. Families’ legal issues are not always a quick fix. When working closely with a client, Tommy utilizes a holistic approach to addressing the problems that individuals face. He says, “Whenever I'm able to learn about my client’s lives, it becomes easier to address their issues because you see the connections… you see where the root of the problem might actually be, and they trust you more.” Focusing on his community, Tommy is a believer in meeting people where they are, whether that’s at a Dunkin Donuts in his neighborhood or greeting his past clients on the street. He leverages this proximity to his community to make his clients feel comfortable, giving him the opportunity to understand the depths of their legal problems.

            Stereotypes are often used to organize, segregate, and compress the multitude of identities housed within our society. Our media, our Administration, and our assumptions create a barrier to seeing the unique intersection of identities comprising each individual. Through his pro bono work, Tommy works with immigrants on a variety of legal problems from helping young immigrants achieve Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) to aiding families in remaining in their apartments or accessing the public benefits their families are legally entitled to. In the United States right now, the Administration has promoted a narrative about immigrant families being a burden on taxpayers. Tommy rejects this stance: “When you’re serving [immigrants] in a legal capacity, you really understand, they’re just like you and me… they’re working towards the same goal; they are trying to provide as best a life as they can for themselves and their children.” Tommy is an advocate for immigrants’ defending their rights, and as a dedicated lawyer he continues to push back against this dominant narrative that threatens immigrants’ livelihood.

           With being a lawyer comes the satisfaction of helping individuals achieve justice; but it also means bearing witness to the “underbelly of some bureaucracies” as Tommy highlights. By acting as a bridge between low-income individuals and the justice system, Tommy finds solace in his role as an educator of legal rights and a proponent of self-advocacy. Understanding that the impact of one person can only provide so much, Tommy is optimistic that his pro bono work can extend beyond the individuals he works with: “So I am hopeful that by touching one family… it will help the community improve at large.”

           Tommy has navigated a variety of projects and areas of law that are outside his specialty. He is not afraid to seek guidance from supporters like VOLS and his advisors at Debevoise when handling legal problems outside of his expertise. These resources not only provide the stability and support he needs but also allows him to work with a diversity of clients. Understanding that he will work as hard as possible to produce the best outcome, and that any legal assistance is better than standing in a courtroom alone, he is confident in his ability to support his clients while growing as a lawyer. Although it can be unfamiliar to work with people who have a different background from your own, Tommy notes: “I think you have to put yourself in your client’s shoes… you can become a better attorney if you really try and understand things from their perspective. But that doesn’t happen until you open yourself up to those different perspectives and it’s very humbling to do so.” Volunteers of Legal Service is so thankful for Tommy Lopez’s pro bono contribution along with all of our wonderful volunteers.