2009 Prize Winner
Jennifer Gilmore could have gone for the big bucks. After a semester at Lewis & Clark in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she graduated at the top of her class from Tulane Law School in New Orleans. There were plenty of options for this promising young lawyer, many of them much more remunerative, but she chose to work for a nonprofit organization that represents children in divorce proceedings. Helping kids was what she wanted to do, and the lack of a high wage couldnt change her mind. Whatever chromosome there is for making a lot of money, Gilmore says, I dont have it. Ive worked in nonprofits my entire career. One of the things I love about working nonprofit is that youre doing a job that you love, that engages you, that captivates you. If it didnt, you wouldnt work for the salary.
Gilmores services as a lawyer dont cost her young clients or their parents a dime; at the same time, her representation is about as good as her clients could get at any price. My role in court is not just a struggle to control parents, Gilmore says. The population we work with is pretty much the toughest custody cases that are going in front of courts. Unfortunately, these also happen to be the lowest-income families. They have no access to any kinds of services. In addition to high conflict between parents, theres domestic violence, parental substance abuse, mental illnessall of these issues that put the child at risk.
Which is why Gilmore took the gig. Her deepest concern is that during the domestic-relations process, the parents tend to fill up the room. Parents see through their own lens, their own hurt.
We support kids, says Gilmore. We give them an outlet during the case, some control over a situation that turns life upside downthe idea is that childrens attorneys are important because kids views and needs and concerns are important.