Pro Bono Spotlight - Melissa Sircar
“You can’t change the world, but you can help someone each day.”
Melissa Sircar is a sole practitioner whose LinkedIn page headline states: “Attorney operating my own law firm with the goal of making a difference in my community.” That she has done, Melissa is one of the most prolific pro bono volunteers on Planet Earth. She takes cases for full representation from Tarrant Volunteer Attorney Services and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans (the pro bono programs of the Tarrant County Bar Association), from Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, and other programs. In addition to her pro bono work, Melissa offers a sliding scale fee structure allowing low-income persons above the poverty level scale to receive legal representation.
Examples of Melissa’s pro bono work abound. Recently, she handled a highly contested family law case for a female Veteran through TLTV. The pro se Veteran was losing the custody battle and access to her children, even though her former spouse had rammed the Veteran’s car with his truck while she was in it and the kids were in his vehicle. Melissa stepped in and represented the Veteran through several contested hearings and the final decree. When TVAS and Legal Aid began a joint program to recruit pro bono lawyers to represent low-income persons seeking restoration of their driver’s licenses lost simply due to their inability to pay outstanding traffic fines, Melissa volunteered to take every case that TVAS and Legal Aid could send to her. She did the same when TVAS and Legal Aid’s Medical Legal Partnership started a new guardianship clinic for low-income young people with medical limitations who needed guardians appointed at age 18 to guide their future medical care and life decisions. Melissa worked with the probate courts and the MLP to create a model for training pro bono lawyers and placing cases with them. She also takes cases and mentors pro bono attorneys new to the program. In the 2020 pandemic-plagued year, Melissa volunteered more than 1000 pro bono hours.
Melissa went to law school (her third career after both of her daughters were in school) to do pro bono work and work in the public interest. Melissa’s husband died recently after a sudden illness. She has carried forward with her pro bono work unabated even in the face of this personal tragedy. “My husband encouraged and supported my pro bono work, and he would want me to continue.”
When asked why she does pro bono work, Melissa said that through helping people: “I gain almost as much satisfaction as the clients I help.” She urges other lawyers to try pro bono service. “Once they give it a chance, you don’t have to sell them.” She also noted that it is a wonderful way for lawyers to expand their skill sets. “Legal Aid and bar association programs give you everything you need -- mentors, forms, and often free CLE. Many lawyers appreciate the malpractice coverage provided by the programs for pro bono cases.” Melissa’s philosophy is: “You can’t change the world, but you can help someone each day.” She is too modest. As she helps someone each day, she is undoubtedly changing the world around her.