Fatima Johnson began volunteering for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic back in 2008 when she was an undergraduate student considering going to Law School. From there, she began volunteering regularly and pursued her dream of becoming a lawyer. For several years, she was an employee of the Clinic, helping to develop and shape the Immigration Department. And although Fatima eventually left full-time employment at the Clinic to start her own firm, she now serves as a member of the Clinic’s Board and still regularly volunteers her time. Her love for the Clinic is undeniable. “It was the best place I’ve ever worked,” she says. “The environment is like no other. Everywhere I go I try to duplicate that environment.”
But to Fatima, the Clinic isn’t just an excellent employer; she believes the work the Clinic does is absolutely pivotal to the community. “I think there’s a gap in the justice system. If you get in trouble and it’s a criminal issue, you’re entitled to a public defender,” she says. “If it’s a civil matter, you basically have no protection… It puts people in a vulnerable situation when they don’t have access to an attorney.” She stresses that these already-vulnerable situations are often compounded for people by their lack of specialized knowledge about issues like immigration law, paperwork, and unknown deadlines. She believes part of her purpose in life is to help walk people through this kind of information.
“There’s a proverb I like to live by, Proverbs 16:3, ‘Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established, and He will establish your plans,’” she says. “What that means to me is, serve God—you need to be serving God at all times, in order to determine what your purpose is and what His will is.” And so Fatima attempts to live up to this ideal, serving the Lord in everything that she does.
Her favorite Clinic event is Naturalization Day, when the Clinic partners with other organizations and local attorneys to do a massive intake and to complete the citizenship paperwork for dozens and dozens of people, all in a single shot. “It’s a very, very hard day,” she says. “And it’s my favorite because I love when my staff and volunteers come as well… to get a glimpse of what it’s like to work at the Clinic.”
To Fatima, such an experience is vital for attorneys—and especially for new attorneys—to have. “I think that if we take hold and develop more attorneys, steer them towards being modest means attorneys, where they can get a lot of experience, we can guide and influence them and the principles they use later on in their legal careers,” she says. This kind of attitudinal shift could go a long way in helping rehabilitate the current reputation of attorneys in popular culture, which Fatima laments.
But the most important thing about the Clinic that Fatima wants others to know is how the work is characterized by love. “I’m not talking about love like romantic love, and I’m not talking about even superficial things we think,” she says. “[The Clinic] is full of people who will fight for you, go to war for you, who will love you through whatever situation that you’re going through.”