Telling Their Stories
Lisa Lamm Bachman gives a voice to children and victims of domestic abuse
Published in 2016 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine
By Trevor Kupfer on July 5, 2016
Jane wanted to leave but couldn’t risk losing her son. Her husband was threatening to take custody of him should she ever try. He controlled her income, giving her a meager monthly allowance that restricted her options. Then there was the escalating physical abuse. To avoid him, Jane mostly kept to a small room in the back of the house, sometimes securing the door with a board lodged under the knob and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She’d been married for more than 10 years.
When the abuse worsened and police got involved, they referred Jane to a domestic abuse center, which in turn led her to Lisa Lamm Bachman.
“She was telling me her story, and it was absolutely heartbreaking,” says Bachman, who was able to help Jane get an order for protection against her husband and start to rebuild her life.
Sadly, Jane’s case has a lot in common with others Bachman has worked: “All of them are emotional, some are tragic, and it’s very difficult for the claimants to be heard,” she says.
Bachman is a partner and pro bono coordinator at Foley & Mansfield’s Minneapolis office. “I’m trying to lead by example, and also nudging and encouraging [my coworkers] and circulating opportunities that come up,” she says. “It’s pro bono, so it’s not mandatory, but I always suggest that it’s a professional aspiration that we, as attorneys, try to hit 50 hours of pro bono work per year.”
Bachman has received awards from the Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project, on whose board she now serves, and the Tubman Safety Project, which provides legal assistance for victims of domestic violence who are seeking protective orders.
While studying at Creighton University School of Law, she worked in the victim witness unit of the county attorney’s office—her first exposure to domestic abuse work. When she joined Foley & Mansfield in 2008, Bachman recalls seeing Tubman’s bulletins on available cases. “I’d read some of the summaries and I thought, ‘I have to be involved,’” she says.
It was a speech by legendary district court judge Gail Chang Bohr that inspired her to join another volunteer organization, Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, which provides legal representation to youth in foster care. Most of the children are placed away from their parents, “and they aren’t always reunited because the parent doesn’t follow through with the case plan.”
Children are also sometimes part of her cases involving orders for protection, which can add a degree of difficulty. “It’s particularly hard to get an order for protection on behalf of a child,” says Bachman, herself a mother of three. “The children don’t testify, and you need very credible evidence that they’re in fear of imminent harm or have been harmed, and it’s difficult to prove.”
Whether it’s victims of domestic abuse or kids in foster care, Bachman’s duty is the same: to give a voice to the people who need it most.
“These kids understand what it means to be represented,” she says. “So it’s just about finding a way to connect with them and explain, ‘I’m not here to tell you how to feel. I’m not here to tell you what you should do. I’m here to make sure the judge knows what you want and what’s important to you.’ And so it gives them a voice. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.
“What I say to clients is: ‘It’s your story; I’m just here to help you tell it.’”
Bachman’s starting points for those interested in helping out
Minnesota State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Development Director
“Contact the pro bono coordinator—Steven Marchese—and I guarantee you’ll get a ton of information about what’s out there.”
Call For Justice
“You can dial 211 in the Twin Cities area and they’ll provide legal resources for whatever their civil legal issue is.”
Volunteer Lawyers Network
“VLN handles a wide range, be it landlord-tenant issues, debtor-creditor, divorce, you name it. The need is great; it’s always there.”
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