By Kris Kazmierczak, Katz & Korin, PC
Amanda Blystone, a family law attorney who practices with the law firm Broyles Kight & Ricafort PC, devotes a substantial amount of pro bono hours “being the voice for kids who otherwise would probably be unheard.”
Amanda often serves as a court appointed guardian ad litem and represents clients on a pro bono basis on family law matters she accepts through the IndyBar. In doing so, she is often called upon to be the voice for children she serves to guide the court in determining life sustaining and dependency decisions. Volunteers appointed to be guardian ad litems traditionally serve in abuse or neglect cases when a child becomes the subject of proceedings to limit or terminate a parent/child relationship, but they are also used in divorce cases where custody disputes are present.
Amanda’s volunteered time is important in so many ways and to a countless number of people. Her work impacts the lives of the children she serves, parents and grandparents, family members, and the State of Indiana. Amanda’s efforts enable judges to determine the best interest of a child under difficult and emotional circumstances with life altering outcomes. Amanda also invests substantial time representing clients on family law matters for cases she volunteers to accept through the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society/IndyBar conflict program. This year alone she has spent over 50 hours representing a client on a pro bono engagement from the conflict program.
Amanda’s focus is not necessarily on providing pro bono services and finding a need to meet her pro bono goals. Instead, Amanda’s accumulated pro bono time is simply a consequence flowing from her primary motivation to help children and her interest in family law.
As a family law lawyer, much of Amanda’s volunteer work is a natural extension of her daily legal practice. Amanda explained, however, that a background in family law is not necessary to be qualified to act as a guardian ad litem or to provide representation in a family law case. In fact, training is available at the county level for those who are interested to assist and give their time as a guardian ad litem. And the need appears to be significant, despite the vast efforts of numerous individuals throughout the State of Indiana.
According to the Indiana Office of Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates (GAL/CASA), “Indiana volunteers spoke for 23,524 abused and neglected children in cases in 2015; nonetheless, thousands of children are still waiting for a volunteer.” The office also reports in its general summary of GAL/CASA programs in 2015 that Child in Need of Services (CHINS) filings were up 30 percent statewide and that volunteers contributed 338,383 hours of work and made 147,239 contacts with the children they served, saving the State of Indiana over $2.4 million in 2015 alone. Additionally, more than 5,100 children were waiting for the assignment of a GAL/CASA volunteer at the end of 2015.
In preparing this article, an important observation was made by Amanda that was very worthy of repeating. On the heels of finishing a three-day trial, Amanda’s attention was drawn to the great need for attorneys to offer their legal expertise and services on a pro bono basis. As Amanda reflected, she observed how inaccessible the legal system really can be to those without financial means and the very serious family legal issues that would go unaddressed without pro bono volunteers. Amanda shared one such experience where she agreed to represent a mother. Amanda realized that without her help, it was unlikely that the mother would even know the basics of where to attend, let alone participate and understand the legal significance of a judicial proceeding involving her child.
With Amanda’s representation, the mother not only participated in the judicial proceedings, but she gained her independence and she was put on track to reassert and protect her parenting and visitation rights. As Amanda pointed out, if we, as attorneys, do not take our pro bono obligation seriously, then we end up doing a huge disservice to a large segment of our community that has no ability to obtain quality legal services elsewhere.
Amanda provides between 50 to 75 hours of pro bono time on a variety of family law matters during a given year. Her efforts were recently highlighted as she became one of the first recipients of the IndyBar’s badge recognition program for pro bono work assigned by the IndyBar and completed in a year. By giving over 50 hours of her time this year, Amanda received the highest recognition of a gold service badge.
Amanda also stays involved in other ways with the IndyBar and Indianapolis Bar Foundation. She is a graduate of the IndyBar Bar Leader Series program, a Distinguished Fellow, and regularly attends the Indianapolis Bar Foundation’s biggest fundraiser, Evening Under the Stars. With her help, the Indianapolis Bar Foundation is able to financially support the pro bono programs associated with the IndyBar.
The pro bono committee sincerely appreciates the efforts of Amanda, and so many other attorneys in the Indianapolis bar, who give their time, talent and financial donations to ease the need for legal services to those of limited financial means in our community. If you desire to be added to the growing list of lawyers willing to assist others on a pro bono basis, please do not hesitate to contact the IndyBar.•
Kris Kazmierczak is a member of the Indianapolis Bar Association Pro Bono Committee and a shareholder of Katz & Korin PC where he practices in the areas of business and employment counseling and litigation.