Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 45

THE PRO BONO EFFECT

M

arina S. Barannik is a partner in the family law
group of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP.
Among her numerous accomplishments, Barannik
has been named a "top lawyer" by Washingtonian
magazine every year since 2015 and chosen for Super
Lawyers® every year since 2014. Active in the legal
community, Barannik is a fellow of the American Academy
of Matrimonial Lawyers, chairs the D.C. Bar Rules of
Professional Conduct Review Committee, and has served
as a dedicated mentor with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's
Advocacy & Justice Clinic since 2014.

Shortly after I began my career as a family lawyer, together with my colleagues
at Feldesman Tucker, I started volunteering at the newly created D.C. Superior
Court Family Court Self-Help Center, which the Pro Bono Center helped to
launch. The Family Court Self-Help Center serves as a walk-in service that
provides unrepresented individuals with legal information on family law matters
pending in court. This work made me realize how underserved D.C. litigants are
in their family law cases and how much need we as a community have for
family lawyers to handle or support pro bono family law cases.

My colleagues in the family law group of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP are
fond of saying that practicing family law is never boring. The same is true of
serving as a mentor for pro bono attorneys handling family law cases through
the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advocacy & Justice Clinic, which provides full
representation to more than 300 clients each year in family law, housing,
public benefits, and other legal matters. These cases include custody and child
support disputes and often present a unique set of facts or unusual legal issues.

I love sharing my experience as a family law practitioner with pro bono lawyers
who, for the most part, have no previous exposure to family law. Contested
custody cases can be quite contentious - something lawyers practicing in
other areas of law may not encounter in their day-to-day work - but they offer
unique, hands-on opportunities to help individuals in times of need when their
most valued rights as parents are being challenged. While the stakes of representing clients in custody matters are high, the rewards of securing positive
outcomes for parents and their children are much higher.

To give a few examples, I served as a mentor to attorney volunteers who successfully represented a father in litigation involving complex issues of thirdparty custody rights. In another case, I mentored pro bono attorneys who
overcame jurisdictional and conflict-of-law challenges in obtaining child
support from a foreign national parent residing abroad. In yet another case,
the attorneys employed creative discovery tactics to uncover hidden sources of
income of a nonpaying father who claimed he didn't have the financial means
to meet his child support obligations. Helping volunteer attorneys to successfully overcome the challenges of these cases is always a rewarding experience
for me in my role as mentor.
My own path to becoming a family law attorney was not a straight one.
I made the decision to become a lawyer later in life, after spending 10 years
in academia with a specialty in U.S. foreign policy, followed by several years as
a stay-at-home mom. When I entered law school, my original plan was to focus
on international corporate or trade law as those areas seemed like a logical fit
given my international background and past professional experience. But as
I progressed through law school and learned about the different areas of law,
I realized that what attracted me most to the practice of law was its human
component and the impact a lawyer's representation can have on individual
lives. I was looking for a practice area where I could interact with individual
clients and use my legal skills and life experience to help resolve legal issues
central to them and their families.
During my last year of law school, I applied for a law clerk position with the
family law group of Feldesman Tucker, and this became the turning point in
my legal career search. I immediately felt a genuine connection to family law.
I returned to Feldesman Tucker as an associate after graduating from law school
in 2003, and I have since devoted my practice at the firm exclusively to representing clients who present the broad range of problems and crises we call
family law. A large portion of my practice at the firm focuses on international
family law cases, enabling me to use my international background and crosscultural expertise in helping international families living and working in the
District of Columbia.

Photo: Patrice Gilbert Photography

When I was asked to serve as a mentor with the Pro Bono Center's Advocacy
& Justice Clinic, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to help other lawyers
become involved in pro bono family law cases. As a mentor, I work with lawyers
who mostly come from large law firms and federal government agencies and
agree to take on pro bono custody and related child support cases that have
been screened by the clinic. The Advocacy & Justice Clinic places parents and
third parties with pro bono counsel in custody, child support, and/or divorce
cases for clients whose income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level
guidelines. The clinic also prioritizes acceptance of pro bono cases in which the
opposing party has representation or some other power imbalance exists.

In my mentoring work, I seek to emphasize that while emotions will likely run
high in a custody case, it is the lawyer's job not to be distracted by emotions
but instead to focus on accomplishing what is important to the client. Lawyers
have the responsibility to handle custody cases in a way that protects rather
than harms the best interests of the children, which often calls for creative,
outside-the-box solutions. To be effective, a good family lawyer must combine
the skills of a strategic thinker, a compassionate listener, a trusted advisor, and
a realistic, results-oriented practitioner. I have found that attorney volunteers
who handle family law cases through the Advocacy & Justice Clinic learn to
appreciate the complexity and multifaceted nature of family law matters, and
through their representation they develop client relationship-building and
advocacy skills they may not have had before.
Parents feel particularly overwhelmed by having to navigate the legal system
when the well-being of their children and their own custodial rights are at stake.
Being able to effectively help individuals who cannot otherwise afford legal
services is a truly rewarding experience, as a good result can have a lasting
impact on a child's and a family's life. I believe any lawyer taking on a pro bono
family law case through the Advocacy & Justice Clinic is enriched both professionally and personally.
I am inspired by the many dedicated and enthusiastic pro bono lawyers I have
worked with during my time with the Advocacy & Justice Clinic. I have seen
these attorneys develop a genuine interest in family law issues and form strong
bonds with their clients. I have also seen them negotiate creative settlements
and obtain successful judgments for their clients. I am confident that these
clients and cases live on in the memories of their pro bono counsel long after
the specifics of leveraged buyouts and commercial transactions have faded.
Interested in serving as a mentor or attorney volunteer on
a family, housing, consumer, or disability law case? Email
Vanessa Batters-Thompson at vbatters-thompson@dcbar.org.

*

MARCH 2019

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WASHINGTON LAWYER 45


http://www.dcbar.org/

Washington Lawyer - March 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Government & Gavel
The Women's Wave & Its Effects on Politics
Features: #Me Too & A Time Of Reckoning for the Law
Feature: Righting The Gender Imbalance In Big Law
Feature: A Day in The Life of Two Women Lawyers
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Efect
Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Government & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - The Women's Wave & Its Effects on Politics
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Features: #Me Too & A Time Of Reckoning for the Law
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Feature: Righting The Gender Imbalance In Big Law
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Feature: A Day in The Life of Two Women Lawyers
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 42
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - The Pro Bono Efect
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 48
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