Cathy Douglass, founder and Executive Director of inMotion, spent 14 years as a corporate lawyer at a large firm before her involvement with the board of directors of a battered women’s organization caused, as she describes it, a “light bulb to go off in my head.” Her observation that there were few places for battered women to find aid and protection inspired her switch to the public sector. Cathy’s resolution to help these women gain critical legal representation came to be the mission of inMotion, which she founded in 1993. A few years later, inMotion become one of Pro Bono Net’s earliest partner organizations.
InMotion’s mission, Cathy says, is “to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of women—low-income, underserved, abused—by offering them legal and social services designed to foster equal access to justice and an empowered approach to life.”
Heidi Lee Henderson, Director of Legal and Social Services at inMotion, describes pro bono as being “at the heart of our mission.” In 2008, approximately 2,000 pro bono attorneys assisted more than 1,500 first-time clients and their 3,000 children, families from all five boroughs of New York City. At any one time that year, inMotion’s staff attorneys were supporting at least 800 ongoing pro bono cases.
The importance of pro bono to inMotion led it to become one of Pro Bono Net’s first partner organizations in 1999, as host of probono.net/NY’s Family Justice/Domestic Violence area. Cathy had worked with Pro Bono Net co-founders Michael Hertz and Mark O’Brien when they were still at law firms, and even served as a sounding board when they were brainstorming the concept that would become Pro Bono Net. As a result, “the partnership with Pro Bono Net was a very natural one for us,” Cathy said.
Heidi notes that inMotion is an excellent opportunity for lawyers seeking pro bono work because the cases involve significant client contact and, often, one or more court appearances. “Those are great opportunities for a person to get real litigation experience,” she said. “You get to prepare for a hearing, do some discovery. It’s a wonderful chance to take the lead on a case and really control what happens and to make strategic decisions.”
In addition, Cathy noted, “The success rate is practically universal on these cases. You’re highly likely to get the remedy that your client needs.”
InMotion provides consultation, mentoring, and training sessions to its pro bono attorneys, so even someone with little or no family law experience can successfully take a case and see it through. Ten years later probono.net/ny continues to be an important part of this support, principally through the online library resources.
“All of our volunteers are aware of probono.net/ny. We tell them about it in our trainings and when we assign them a case,” Heidi explained. In addition, CLE trainings are posted on the Pro Bono Net calendar, and inMotion uses the email tool to alert members to cases and trainings that may be of interest. Each February, inMotion honors its pro bono volunteers at a Commitment to Justice Awards event.
InMotion also provides social work support, to which its pro bono lawyers often refer their clients for non-legal services. Among these services are counseling, safety planning and instruction on attaining public benefits.
InMotion continues to pursue new ways of providing legal services to low-income women, such as establishing a presence as an on-site partner at the Queens Family Justice Center in the summer of 2008. The Center, which hosts a range of domestic violence service providers under one roof, is sensitive to issues specific to immigrant communities—a valuable resource for Queens, the most diverse county in the U.S.
“It’s a different model for us and we’re excited about the move into Queens,” Cathy said. “It’s a new challenge.”
For more information about volunteering with inMotion, visit their website.