Lacy Panyard knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to be an attorney. But it was a study abroad trip to Mexico with her school at the age of 17 that helped determine her specialty. She says, “While I was down there, I saw people who were wealthy and who have everything they need. They’re living better than us. And then I saw the people who are 5-year-olds, out on the street, selling gum and homemade goods because they don’t have food on the table.”
This experience had a profound effect on her and on her views regarding immigration. “For me, it took away the stigma of, ‘Oh, all these people are just crossing illegally. They don’t care about our laws.’ No, in a lot of cases, it is out of necessity,” she says. “By my second year there, I knew I wanted to be an Immigration Attorney.”
With her field of study already chosen, Lacy was able to focus her extracurricular and volunteer experiences early on. During her time in law school at IU McKinney School of Law, Lacy reached out to a professor who ran an immigration clinic and asked how she might be able to get involved. The professor recommended she contact Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic to find out about volunteer opportunities. Free from classes on Friday, Lacy spent those days at the Clinic, assisting with immigration work.
Since first coming in contact with the Clinic back in 2010, Lacy has volunteered in numerous different capacities, including helping with interpretation, conducting regular new client intakes at John Knox Presbyterian Church, recently taking her first pro bono case, and at times helping with large one-day immigration events like Refugee Adjustment Day or Naturalization Day.
For Lacy, Of Counsel to Alison Finkelmeier Law Office, LLC, these constant volunteer efforts are inexorably linked to her faith, as well as to her views on her own privilege. “The people I represent are mostly really vulnerable people in the community,” she says. She explains that many of her clients are undocumented, or don’t speak the language, or have been taken advantage of by someone else when they come to her. “They’re people like me and you. Their only difference is to be born across that border.”
Seeing all of these different, difficult scenarios on a regular basis acts as a guiding force for Lacy. “It serves as a reminder for why I do what I do when I don’t want to leave my house or I’m really tired. I can think of a million reasons why I could stop doing intake,” she says. But then she remembers all that she has and that gives her a boost. “It’s been extremely humbling to work with the Clinic,” she says. “We are in a position where our cup overfloweth.”
To learn more about volunteering for the Clinic, please visit the volunteer page of our website.