'Where Can I Be of Help?'
Amanda Mathis Riedling knows the benefits of pro bono go both ways
Published in 2021 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
on February 12, 2021
Updated on February 18, 2021
He was 13 when his mother passed away, and without a father in the picture he spent his teenage years raised by an uncle.
He was 18 when he asked about the inheritance his uncle was managing for him. He was supposed to receive it when he came of age, but his uncle refused to hand it over or even talk about it. That’s when he reached out to Cobb Legal Aid through the Cobb Justice Foundation. And that’s when Amanda Riedling entered the picture.
“The urge to do pro bono work came naturally to me,” says Riedling, who donates more than 50 hours of pro bono services per year to the Cobb Justice Foundation, Atlanta Legal Aid and the Cobb County Probate Clinic. “We have a saying at our office: ‘If we ever get too busy to do pro bono work, then we need to shut the doors.’ It’s just that important.”
The straightforwardly named Georgia Wills, Trusts, and Probate Firm is co-owned by Riedling and her mentor, Dawn R. Levine. “She hired me right out of law school,” Riedling says. “She was one of the people that helped create and organize the Probate Clinic in Cobb County. I remember being at one of the meetings where they were planning it. I was a new associate attorney at that point, ready to help.”
The Probate Clinic, Riedling says, isn’t really designed to help people litigate contested cases. Instead, attorneys provide 30-minute free consultations to help people choose the correct forms and help fill them out. “It’s really to help people that are just trying to navigate the probate court and pick the right petition to file,” she says. “If you’ve never filled out the probate forms before, it’s very hard to get the wording correct.”
But she has helped litigate some probate court cases—including the 18-year-old with the uncle problem. Turns out the uncle hadn’t turned over the inheritance because he no longer had it.
“We went through years of litigation and we were able to get a healthy judgment against his uncle,” Riedling says. “That particular client told me that I saved his life. What other opportunity would I have as a lawyer, right? I’m not in the health care field, I’m not a police officer. When else is someone going to tell me that I saved their life?”
Riedling is so pro on pro bono that for the past three years she’s also been co-chair of the annual Justice Jam, which raises money for the Cobb Justice Foundation.
“It started out as a battle of the bands, and every band had to have a lawyer in it,” she says. “And there’d be a competition with a panel of judges—who were actual judges. A couple of years ago, we switched it to a karaoke lip-sync battle with a theme. It’s usually around Halloween, so people are ready to dress up and be goofy.” One year, it was a ‘90s theme, another year it was the musical Grease. Last October, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they put lip-sync battles on hold for a socially distanced drive-in movie: Back to the Future.
The benefits to pro bono, she adds, go both ways. “Especially for younger lawyers, it’s a great way to get experience they may not get otherwise. Legal Aid can help train you and then you can go do it. … There’s wills clinics. Just contact them and say, ‘Hey, where can I be of help?’”