Bambi Lohr is a senior paralegal at Duke Energy Corporation, working in the litigation department. Since joining Duke Energy in 2010, Lohr has made pro bono work an integral part of her job. Lohr has worked on immigration cases, expunctions, and preparation of simple estate planning documents. Most recently, Lohr worked on a “children crossing borders” immigration case with LSSP, which led to her first immigration client being granted permanent custody of her minor daughter. Lohr is one of six individuals and three law firms recognized as 2016’s Pro Bono Award recipients.
When did you begin working on pro bono cases with LSSP?
I first started working with LSSP in 2010 and 2011. Duke Energy previously had not put a lot of time into a pro bono program. It wasn’t until 2010 that they started to formulate a pro bono effort for the legal department company-wide.
Why did you choose to start doing pro bono work?
It was something I was interested in doing. It was just going out and finding things we could do to help the community. I had worked in law firms in the past, and yes, we talked about pro bono, but I wasn’t that involved. The emphasis was on attorneys. Here, I have a part to play.
You’ve given a lot of time to the Access to Pro Bono Partners Program as a paralegal. Do paralegals have the same professional responsibility to volunteer as attorneys?
Paralegals have the same guidelines. We’re held to that same standard, but when you’re in a firm, pro bono tends to be pushed on the attorneys. It’s more inclusive here at Duke. It’s not just attorneys held to account. Everyone is expected to play a part.
How does pro bono differ from other forms of volunteer work?
I have always been drawn to this work because I feel like I’m actually making a difference here. I’ve done estate planning for over 13 years. One of the first events I volunteered at was called “Wills for Heroes,” for emergency services personnel. It was so rewarding. There are folks that need this service, and it’s free. You just walk away thinking how great that is. In this line of work, you see that impact of having those documents prepared.
What made you decide to take on a pro bono child custody immigration case?
I wanted to challenge myself. Immigration is not a simple form. There are processes, court dates, steps that you must follow. You’re very engaged with the client. It wasn’t until LSSP asked me to get involved did I realize the impact I was making. When I met Genesis, I realized she is the same age as my son. It’s a whole world you can’t grasp until you walk in their shoes.
The first one, you sit down and think, ‘Oh my gosh, how many do we need to help?’ I would tell anyone don’t shy away from it. You realize how helpful you can be once you get into it.
The day were finally able to help her mother get custody – that was an emotional day for everyone. Genesis was finally safe with her mother. That was extremely rewarding.
I still keep up with the family. I have their next court date later this month on my radar. That’s the next big step. I have stayed in contact even though my part is finished, but until you get that “OK” from an immigration judge can you say, “She’s safe.” Genesis came when she was 9, and two years later, here we are.
What current pro bono projects are you working on?
I just finished up helping with the Wills for Seniors event two weeks ago, and I am currently working on my second child custody immigration case.
What advice would you give to someone considering getting involved in the Access to Justice Pro Bono Program?
It can be challenging to find something that fits a niche you are comfortable with, but it can be done. But also, dip a toe in and try something different, like immigration, that’s out of your comfort zone. Then anything else that comes your way you know you can handle.