Meet Margaret and Richard Roisman, Recipients of VLSC’s Pro Bono Leadership Award
Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC) Pro Bono Leadership Award recipients Margaret and Richard Roisman will be honored at our annual fundraiser Justice for All: Celebrating Pro Bono on May 17th in Oakland, CA.
Margaret and Richard Roisman have a long history with VLSC and are dedicated advocates for our mission and programs. Margaret helped shepherd VLSC as a Board member for many years. Richard has volunteered at every CLASP clinic since inception, and Margaret has committed her firm to providing a probate volunteer at every CLASP clinic. They have also been long-time supporters of VLSC with their financial resources, most recently as Guardians of Justice.
We asked Margaret and Richard Roisman to tell us a little about what pro bono means to them, and why they chose to get involved with VLSC.
Everyone in the legal world knows that the law is designed primarily to help those with money. Those with no money have very few rights (notwithstanding the platitudes in the American and California constitutions). The legal profession is structured to exacerbate this problem by making legal service very expensive, allowing only the people with money the use of lawyers. Just one law suit to correct an injustice costs more than the average American annual salary. This distorted pricing allows only the wealthy the ability to work through the intricacies of our court system to find justice among the vast array of laws governing our society.
How could anyone with the slightest sense of justice not want to try to do something, however minor, about this?
Of course this is at bottom a political problem which is terribly frustrating to resolve.
In the meantime though, VLSC offers people like me (with legal training and a legal license) the chance to help particular individuals who don’t have money, and occasionally provide some push back against the endemic injustices I just mentioned. This is a great personal relief for me to work from time to time with VLSC to do small things for individuals in the midst of the huge tide of injustice imposed on them. It’s not a big deal when you look at the injustices in the society as a whole, but it is important to achieve some order or correction.
Having worked all of my professional life for wealthy corporations, I have a deeper understanding, experience, knowledge and therefore insights, into how various laws work; and these insights can be valuable to these people. My first work for VLSC was in a debtor clinic in 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession when many people were facing the injustice of maliciously drafted lengthy financial contracts to which all debtors are required to adhere. For those who showed up at the clinic with personal conundrums under these contracts, it was fun for me to do what I could to undermine the enforcement of these complex and unjust financial contracts, popularly known as “credit card agreements” and “deeds of trust”.
In subsequent VLSC programs in which I have participated, it is a joy to be able to share my experience, knowledge and insights in a way that is contrary to the huge tide of injustice that dominates social, economic and political life in American society.
My experience and skills, mostly in high-end estate planning and trust administration, are not particularly useful for individuals who cannot afford lawyers. Although I could help people with simple wills and probates, my billing rate meant that my time was better spent earning money, which could then be donated to legal service organizations like VLSC. When Carolyn Henel and I left a large firm to form our own firm, Roisman Henel + Adams LLP, we were in a position to make the decision about what organizations we would donate to, and in what amounts. It was an easy decision for us to enlist our firm as a Guardian of Justice with VLSC. Our interest in and support of the work of VLSC led me to serve on the VLSC Board of Directors, and Carolyn to do the same when I was no longer able to do so.
We have encouraged our associates to participate in the guardianship clinic on a regular basis, which has been a learning experience for all of us.
Now that I am cutting back on the hours that I spend practicing law in my firm, I am learning the pleasure and satisfaction of work with CLASP, and encouraging others in my position to participate as well. (Our firm staffs CLASP with at least one wills and estate attorney every month.)
As the way I participate in the practice of law changes as I age, I’m looking forward to additional opportunities to share my experience and insights as Richard describes.
Please join us for a night of socializing and celebrating at our biggest fundraiser of the year on May 17th! You too can help create access to justice for the vulnerable in our community. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres, a host bar, and silent and live auctions. All proceeds benefit VLSC.