Transcending Discomfort: Meet Claire James, Esq., Kirkland & Ellis LLP

October 26, 2018

Claire James- Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Claire James, a partner specializing in mergers and acquisitions at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, is deeply committed to an impressive range of pro bono initiatives. In her work with the Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, Claire provides legal counsel to mothers with family law problems at the women’s jail, Rose M. Singer Center, on Rikers Island. 

Each month, Claire travels to Rikers Island to meet with and provide legal information and advice to women separated from their families due to incarceration. Claire listens carefully to her clients’ concerns, answers questions, and helps each client understand her parental rights and responsibilities. She then works closely with her client to overcome legal obstacles that separate this mother from her children.

Claire incorporates a holistic approach in considering her client’s life experiences, rejecting assumptions and stereotypes while acknowledging systematic inequities.  She says, “As a lawyer and advocate, it is important that you’re able to sit across the table while reserving judgment and I think it’s way easier to do that if you have an understanding of who they are.” With understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes a level of comfort in an interaction between two individuals working together to accomplish the best possible legal outcome. Claire’s clients rely on her to help them to understand family court proceedings, explain legal documents and to draft petitions. She has worked diligently to ensure that her clients are able to communicate their concerns to caretakers, foster care workers, and court appointed attorneys. She has successfully advocated on behalf of clients to ensure that orders of visitation are enforced, that they are produced for court proceedings and that they do not lose their parental rights. 

Claire’s legal acumen, combined with her commitment to develop judgment-free partnerships with her clients makes her a formidable advocate. Claire acknowledges that there are differences between her clients and herself, but knows the importance of forming a connection by finding commonality, “so that [clients] can trust you and get a sense that you understand what it is that they are explaining to you, in terms of their problems or what they are hoping to achieve.” Working to find this commonality can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable but Claire advises, “It is also important to push past it, a lot of things in life are uncomfortable, hard things are uncomfortable, growing is uncomfortable, but I think you should have to push through it and know that it’s uncomfortable because that’s what it takes to have an impact sometimes.” When this commonality is found, and a connection is formed, all that is left is mutual respect. Claire says, “I'm so impressed with what [my clients] have overcome, what their ambitions are, what they have to deal with on a day to day basis… the sacrifices they make for their children, that all gives me hope.” 

In addition to her own pro bono work, Claire inspires and encourages other lawyers to serve under-resourced communities. She advises young lawyers that pro bono work, while difficult at first, increasingly becomes easier. Recognizing that pro bono can push lawyers to volunteer in areas of the law outside of their comfort zone, Claire sees this as a pathway to growth in understanding the law and providing substantial legal advice. Lawyers can often provide the key to access to justice and Claire acknowledges this, “I think it’s really our responsibility to give back to the community, we have this great gift of a legal education and I think that the law is such a powerful tool, it can be used for good.” When faced with adversity, pro bono lawyers must transcend discomfort in order to ensure access to justice to every individual. Thank you, Claire, for your commitment to pro bono and for your dedication to the Incarcerated Mothers Law Project and your appreciative clients.