Meet Volunteer Attorney Phil Zimmerly

 
Phil Zimmerly and his family

Phil Zimmerly and his family

 

Phil Zimmerly sat in court, waiting with his client. That day, he was not there in his normal capacity as a litigator for Bose McKinney & Evans; rather, he was representing a woman on behalf of Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. And she was there to get her name changed.

A volunteer for five years, Phil met her during his once-a-month shift conducting new client intake sessions for the Legal Clinic. She told him about a mistake with her birth certificate—and Phil decided to take on her case himself, pro bono.

Waiting with the others in court that morning, Phil was fascinated by the eclectic mix of people and their reasons for being there. Everyone had a story. There were those who were divorced, wanting to rid themselves of the name they had taken on as a newlywed. There were children who were being adopted, now bestowed with new names to match their new family. Phil marveled at the ceremony and power as the judge declared for each person, “You will forever be known as—” before christening them anew. “It felt like a religious moment,” Phil says to me now.

There is a depth to Phil’s service that is disarming. “Sometimes, when you’re meeting with a client, it’s like, ‘I really connect with this person. I really feel like I could help them with the issue that they have.’” He tells me of a woman who came to intake seeking assistance with an adult guardianship. Her daughter was nonverbal and epileptic and she needed full-time care. As the woman shared her story, Phil realized his mother had gone through the same thing, taking care of a disabled family member. Stepping in to help this woman was easy. “I felt like I was helping my own mom,” he says. 

Of course, not every legal situation can be easily remedied. But Phil does not let that stop him from connecting with the people he meets. He recalls a group of guys with immigration issues that had no real recourse. After their intake session, Phil saw them waiting for a ride and he offered to drop them off somewhere. “They hopped in my car and we were able to get some tamales at a tamale place.”

A husband and a father to three little girls (“I’m part of the Danny Tanner club,” he quips), Phil stresses that much of the credit for his volunteering is owed to his wife. “We’re a team. And I’m the team member that gets to go do that,” he says, “but she’s the team member that is supporting me and allowing me to do that.”

When he first began learning the ropes of volunteering for the Clinic, Phil admits he was intimidated. The different cases, the broken situations. “I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to do it,” he says. “But you kind of grow into it. I try to treat everyone with respect and dignity. And also, when it’s appropriate, I pray for clients. That’s probably the coolest part of what I do.”

To learn more about volunteering for the Clinic, please visit our website or contact our Volunteer Coordinator Kathleen Bloxsome at kbloxsome@nclegalclinic.org.