Last month Legal Services Advocacy Director Carolina Lombardi celebrated her 39th year with Legal Services. Carolina sat down with Vivian Chavez our Director of Operations to reflect on her time here at Legal Services. Congratulations to Carolina, Legal Services is lucky to have you.
You are celebrating 39 years with Legal Services, what thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that?
I think about how incredibly fortunate I am to have a job that provides so much personal satisfaction and at the same time, really makes a difference I people’s lives. I like all the people I work with – there is no drama, no warring factions – just people who, at the end of the day, want to get the same results that I do. Working at Legal Services has also brought me many long term, cherished relationships that flourished outside of work. I think about when I started practicing as a Legal Services attorney when the legal community thought of Legal Services attorneys as maybe not the best – although we were! I compare that with our standing now in the community and we are constantly profiled, complimented, and are recognized for our work.
How did you get involved with Legal Services?
I started as an intern in 1977 in the UM Law School Domestic Relations Clinic. Many people have heard the story that I got to the Legal Services office and no one was expecting me and my supervisor was a law clerk that had been here all of 6 months! It was nothing like the structured, worthwhile experience that we offer law clerks now. After I graduated, I volunteered at Legal Services while looking for a “real job.” A staff attorney position opened up in our Key Largo office and I applied, thinking I would do that until I found a something else. Well, 39 years later …
In what different ways have you grown over the past 39 years?
When Legal Services hired me I worked at the two-attorney Key Largo office. I was basically a new attorney on my own. I had to learn to practice law on my own, learn how to interact with all types of people, learn to deal with male Judges who referred to me as “little lady” and male opposing counsel who thought they got to talk first even if it was my motion and loudly over-speak me. After Key Largo I went to a one-attorney office in Homestead and again was on my own. So, the result of these first couple of years is that I developed self-confidence in my abilities. I also think my years here have made me more compassionate and understanding of people’s situations. I have represented clients who have such horrendous lives what with disabilities, financial problems, crime victims, that you wonder how they can get up and face each day – but they do. Then I look at my life – how can I complain about anything?
What is your favorite part of the job?
I like intake – which is when we meet a client for the first time and find out what their legal problem is. Many times their stories are like a novel.
Who has been your role model?
My maternal grandmother. She came to the US as a very young child in the early 1900s from Southern Italy through Ellis Island with her mother and siblings – they were very poor. My great grandmother had no education and her children had to work at young ages to support all of them. My grandmother had limited schooling because her family moved a lot working in the mills in New England. However, she taught herself to read and write and later ran a successful business and had a happy marriage and 4 successful, happy children. She found good in everyone, was a supremely accomplished cook and baker, and was still learning until she died at 98.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received ?
I couldn’t identify just one thing – here at Legal Services I have had many good role models as leaders and I have absorbed what worked. I would say that a good leader must treat others with respect, be even-handed, acknowledge successes, be honest in evaluations.
What is your funniest memory at Legal Services?
I don’t think the statute of limitations has expired on revealing those memories.