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What is Legal Aid

Attorney, Children’s Attorneys Project

It’s as simple as peanut butter jelly time. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because that’s what I grew up eating. I was put on a path to work for Legal Aid Center because my parent’s valued helping people. My parents lived the values of helping their community and our whole family was a part of that lived value.

I went to Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. From there I went to the University of Cincinnati College of Law and graduated with my juris doctorate in 2011. During law school I was a fellow at the Ohio Innocence Project, where we worked to overturn cases of wrongful conviction based on claims of actual innocence. I also interned with Diné be’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii (DNA-People’s Legal Services), the largest Native American based Legal Aid provider in the United States. My first professional job was working at DNA-People’s Legal Services in Northern New Mexico.

After four years in rural New Mexico, we were ready to get back to a city. I applied for position at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and was hired. I represent children who are in foster care in Clark County.

Growing up, I had no notion of structural inequality or the idea of access to justice. There were no attorneys in my family. I don’t think I met an attorney until I was applying to law school. My notion of what a lawyer actually did was heavily influenced by John Grisham. I struggled writing that. I would prefer to say, “My notion of what a lawyer actually did was heavily influenced by hours of research, interning at a law firm, or To Kill a Mockingbird,” but that just ain’t the case.  John Grisham can make the most banal legal task into high drama and the most boring lawyer into a hero. His books start with a wrong that cannot be righted by the character alone. His books get rolling when the aggrieved party obtains competent legal counsel. Counsel for the most vulnerable matters because access to justice is a prerequisite to justice.

A few months ago I was covering initial neglect hearings. There was a 15 year old girl, Lucie (not her real name), whose mother had been arrested. She had no other adult in Clark County who could take care of her and had been placed at Child Haven, a congregate care facility for children waiting a more permanent placement. At the initial hearing, the Child Protective Services Investigator told me that Lucie would run if we didn’t get her out of Child Haven. Lucie’s grandmother was willing to take placement but there were institutional and legal barriers preventing that immediate placement. I had a full day of court. In between each case I was on the phone with the investigator. Twice we brought the case back in front of the Judge to get an order from the court that would get us over a barrier. When the last case on the docket concluded I asked the Court to recall the case once more. The Court allowed recall and then authorized immediate placement with grandma. Placement was made later that evening. Lucie was an honor roll student when the case came in at that initial hearing. She is still an honor roll student today. In that 24 hours her life could have gone a different direction. It’s not a 400 page John Grisham book but Lucie’s life was changed because she had access to justice.

Working at Legal Aid Center we are put in a position to make a difference. There is no job on earth where you can impact individual people like you can working in legal aid. Every attorney at Legal Aid Center could tell you dozens of stories where access to an attorney changed someone’s life. That is the spirit of Legal Aid Center.

Names of clients are changed to protect confidentiality

Jonathan Norman, Esq.
Attorney, Children’s Attorneys Project
Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Inc.
725 E. Charleston Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada  89104
702-386-1490 direct/fax
702-386-1070 ext. 1490