And justice for all: Local attorney’s pro bono work helps balance the scales of justice
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Jan 18, 2012 | 3500 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SARAH COLEMAN received the Bradley County Bar Association's Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award on Dec. 16, 2011.
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Taking on legal work for a client with low or no income may have few rewards, but attorney Sarah Coleman did not become a lawyer for fame or fortune.

The Cleveland resident was recently awarded Bradley County’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year for her outstanding performance in rendering legal aid in the community.

Coleman, who just started her fourth year as an attorney, said the best thing about working pro bono is “seeing the relief and the gratitude when you’re able to handle a situation for someone — whatever that situation may be.”

The unselfish but outspoken attorney calls her pro bono clients “some of the most kind people” she’s met in Cleveland. The bond she has developed with many of them is based on appreciation, which she calls priceless.

“They have brought me lunch and baked me cakes,” Coleman said. “They do anything and everything they can to try and show their appreciation. I think that is sometimes better than money.

“I mean, they really go out of their way to show you they truly appreciate what you are doing. Because you’ve taken what is usually a very scary and horrible situation for them and you’ve made it a little easier. So they’re very grateful.”

The worse thing about working pro bono, according to Coleman, is having to turn someone away.

“That is a horrible feeling,” she said. “Sometimes in order to fight certain cases it requires significant funds. It’s not things that would go for attorney’s fees. A lot of times with litigation you have expenses for discovery and depositions.

“That entails court reporters. It’s expenses like that, that tend to build up. Being a small firm like myself, I don’t have that huge capitol investment in the bank to be able to donate like that.”

What she is unable to donate financially in legal aid, Coleman contributes by giving her time and energy in community service. The North Carolina native volunteers at the Refuge Community Centre in Cleveland.

“I just got elected to the board of directors for the Refuge Community Centre to serve in 2012,” Coleman said. “I’m very excited about that. It’s going to be the highlight of the year, I think.”

Coleman, who graduated magna cum laude from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia, was given the Willard Owens Award for Excellence in Community Service in 2008.

In that year she also received the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association’s Trial Advocacy Award, and the Thomas Blackwell Heart of ASL Award while serving as president of the American Trial Lawyers Association from 2007-08.

“I’d like to be known as someone who cares about family and community, who is willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs it,” Coleman said. “That to me is one of the most important things. Through my church and through my work I really try to give back to people wherever they might need it — legally or otherwise. I think I’d like to be known as somebody who gives.”

According to Coleman, whose ideal approach to helping others is marked by personal attention, applying a formula of individual attention to her clients just seemed like good business sense.

“I found that people really respond to personal service,” she said. “My whole goal has been to try and give one-on-one service. When you come in you speak to me. And that, really in essence, branched into this area of pro bono work. Because I found the more I sat and talked with people, the more I saw the need.”

Now that Legal Aid has closed its office in Cleveland, there is more of a need than ever for attorneys to give back to the community, according to Coleman, who is a member of the Bradley County Bar Association, the Tennessee Bar Association, the North Carolina Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

“Lawyers often have a really bad name,” Coleman admits with a slight laugh. “I’m trying to change the view on the profession a little bit and help people realize we’re not such bad people. We just want people to realize we are doing the best we know how to make our community better.”

Coleman, who has her own local law practice focusing on domestic relations and juvenile law as well as criminal defense, personal injury, bankruptcy and other general practice areas, is married to local attorney Matthew Coleman, who works with Logan-Thompson law firm.

This is not a problem at all, says the Cleveland couple who first met in law school.

“Ultimately what makes us work so well is that we have the same beliefs,” said Coleman, who married Matthew on Aug. 19, 2010. “We believe family is very, very important. We believe community is very important and being part of your community and helping is something we take pride in. He is always willing to help with my ideas.”

Coleman Law Offices is located at 217 Broad Street NW. For further information about her law practice, contact Sarah Coleman at 584-6222.