The power to change lives

October 24, 2019

“She changed my life.”

Domestic violence survivor Juliana Cano and attorney Patricia Ravenhorst both said this statement referring to each other.

Fifteen years ago Ravenhorst was practicing immigration and employment law at Wyche in Greenville when Cano approached her about pro bono assistance with a custody issue. That was Ravenhorst’s first domestic violence case, and the collaboration and friendship not only helped Cano start a new life but changed the trajectory of Ravenhorst’s career and future.

Now general counsel at the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Ravenhorst advocates every day for individuals who face situations like Cano once did.

During Celebrate Pro Bono Week, recognized October 20-26, the South Carolina Bar and American Bar Association are highlighting the necessity for legal assistance for domestic and sexual violence survivors. This need is especially critical in South Carolina as less than 10 percent of survivors who are seeking an order of protection have a lawyer, according to Ravenhorst.

“Having a lawyer can add a layer of  safety, can bring a survivor more power in the relationship and in the courtroom and can give them the strength and privacy and expertise that they need to make a hard decision to pursue their rights,” she says. “It’s an honor to be that person in the room to help them fight for what they need and do it in as safe a way as possible.”

Courtney Atkinson, partner at Melcafe & Atkinson in Greenville, focuses on employment law and litigation and also dedicates time to provide pro bono legal services to sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. She views this work as serving a need in her community, and it has sharpened her skills as a lawyer.

“Often my role as an attorney is to be an advocate and to speak for people,” she says. “I’m learning very much through doing pro bono work that so much of that work has to be focused on the client and the client’s needs. While I certainly have always understood and appreciated that, doing pro bono work has helped me to focus on really needing to understand and empower my clients.”

Follow the SC Bar’s social media channels throughout the rest of October to learn more about the journeys of Tricia, Juliana, Courtney and other attorneys and domestic violence survivors in South Carolina.