Nassau Suffolk Law Services is pleased to honor Margarett Williams, an attorney who is serving the legal community as an advisor and mentor to junior attorneys while also representing needy Suffolk County residents in pro bono matrimonial matters, one of the most emotionally challenging areas of the law. As many may know, Ms. Williams is the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center. Yet, she finds time to devote to pro bono matrimonial cases through Nassau Suffolk Law Services' Pro Bono Project, which is supported in part by the Suffolk County Bar Association. The story of how she came to practice law is one of finding her passion and following it with perseverance.
Ms. Williams put herself through Adelphi University, attending classes at night, and graduated summa cum laude in 1995 with a B.A. in Psychology. Prior to attending law school, she spent almost 17 years in corporate Human Resources and Training in a $1.5 billion corporation, and during that time obtained certification in Human Resource Management from Cornell University. Working during the day, she attended the evening program at Touro Law Center from 2001 until 2005. She practiced employment law after graduation, but quickly began pursuing her interest in family law. Ms. Williams practiced matrimonial and family law at the firm of Winkler, Kurtz, Winkler and Kuhn in Port Jefferson Station and credits Jim Winkler, her mentor at the firm, for inspiring her to do pro bono cases based on his active involvement with the Pro Bono Project.
When she returned to Touro Law Center (first as the Director of Employer Relations), she knew that continuing with her pro bono matrimonial work was the right thing to do. Explaining how her volunteer service enhances her work in the Career Services Office at Touro Law Center, Ms. Williams says, "It keeps me involved in the practice of law, so that when I counsel my students I can do an even better job of discussing the realities of practice, including respect for the court, clients, and ethical issues. Furthermore in matrimonial law, you touch on other legal issues like pensions (governed by ERISA), real estate issues, foreclosures and bankruptcies. This adds to the things I can speak to students about. I am constantly taking CLE classes, reading cases in the New York Law Journal and keeping up on the latest developments in the law."
Ms. Williams also loves the fact that this work allows her to do good in the world with every case she handles. All her pro bono clients have been women, most of them survivors of abusive relationships who are frightened and have lost hope. Each matrimonial case is different and the clients often need more than just legal assistance. Her psychological training and personal insight allow her to truly empathize with her clients and encourage them at a time when they need it most. She was divorced for 16 years before she remarried and knows what it's like to face difficulties alone. While representing them, she discusses ways in which they can empower themselves. She credits most of her success to the support she receives from her husband, Richard Eisenberg, Esq., who is very supportive "even when I spend hours on weekends writing motions and agreements, or talking hysterical clients 'off the ledge.'" She is also grateful to her boss, Dean Lawrence Raful, who is supportive of her pro bono work.
One negative realization that this work has revealed to her is that there are more people than she could have imagined who are in need of free legal services, especially in civil matters where there is no right to free counsel as there is in criminal matters. She always advises her students to do pro bono work in order to gain experience, but adds that "donating valuable time to do the work is extremely gratifying. You cannot earn a living taking pro bono cases, but you can improve the world one little piece at a time." For her empathy, wisdom, and inspiring dedication to the underserved of our community, it is our privilege to honor Margarett Williams as Pro Bono Attorney of the month.
Nancy Zukowski is a volunteer paralegal for Nassau Suffolk Law Services with a paralegal certificate from Suffolk Community College. Ms.Zukowski is also a freelance writer and has extensive professional experience in health insurance claims and health care advocacy and has interned at Nassau Suffolk Law Services, Queens Housing Court, and at private law offices in Suffolk. She is also a member of the Self Advocacy Association of New York.
Note: The Pro Bono Project welcomes attorneys who would like to lend a hand, especially in the areas of bankruptcy, matrimonials, family law and guardianships. Please call Maria Dosso. Esq. at 631 232-2400 x 3369 for more information.