Close to Her Heart
Kristine Helen Bridges has helped dozens seek protective orders
Published in 2020 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 16, 2020
Before COVID-19, Kristine Helen Bridges was often paid in hugs.
Nearly 15 years ago, she began taking pro bono work on behalf of victims of domestic violence after Katie Wessling—with what’s now called the Crime Victim Center—did a presentation at Thompson Coburn’s St. Louis office. Hearing about the work the organization was doing to get protective orders, Bridges immediately signed up.
“I felt like I needed to represent these women who needed help. [They] are really brave to come forward and get out of these situations they’re in,” she says. “It’s a topic that’s close to my heart. These women, a lot of them just need someone to help them maneuver through the legal system and someone to just hold their hand to get them through these protective orders. Often, it’s their first step in getting out of an abusive relationship.”
Working with vulnerable clients in difficult situations can be tough—especially since the cases move quickly. “You don’t have the luxury of discovery, taking depositions. Sometimes you don’t have any medical evidence because [the clients] have not gone to the ER or the doctor, so you don’t have photographs,” Bridges says. “Sometimes all you have is their word, and it’s ‘he said, she said.’ And all you can do is hope that the judge believes your client a little bit more than he or she believes the other.”
Of course, there’s also an extra element of sensitivity to these cases. “Some of these women are actually hiding,” says Bridges, who fights to ensure victims’ information is kept private in court documents, so the other party can’t use those files to locate those who may be living in safe houses. “Court is very good at making sure the respondents stay in the courtroom for 10 minutes after we leave, giving my clients time to get to their vehicles.”
Having helped more than 30 adults and children seek protective orders against abusers, Bridges finds that aiding people in their time of need, though difficult, is always worth it. “I represented a woman who had a brain injury as a result of domestic abuse. Those cases are very, very hard,” she says. “I mean, it pulls on your heartstrings. But when you walk out of there and you’ve got this court order or protective order against the other party—it’s very rewarding.”
Though it’s a change from her daily grind, Bridges encourages young Thompson associates to take on this type of work. Not only is it rewarding, she tells them, but it can provide invaluable experience to someone just beginning their career.
It is not just a job for young lawyers, however: Bridges, who began her career as a secretary, then a paralegal—and went to law school at night while raising 9-year-old twins—sees pro bono as a responsibility for all. “I worked hard to become a lawyer, and I think it’s just important to give back somehow,” she says.
“I encourage everyone to get involved in pro bono work, however they do it. It’s not just about representing the Crime Victim Center; other organizations need help, too. I mean, we need real estate lawyers to help with people who are being evicted, for example. There’s so much pro bono work out there that can be done, and so many lawyers don’t—and they should. I think it’s our duty to do that.”
Strength in Numbers
In 2012, Bridges was involved in a series of monthly phone calls to help women attorneys in Iraq set up a women’s legal organization.
The women were concerned about domestic violence in their country, as well as progressing their legal careers; at the time, they said law schools in Iraq were 50/50 men and women, but that women attorneys were often pigeonholed into practicing real estate or family law.
“We would do these calls at five in the morning,” says Bridges. “I lived 45 minutes from downtown, so I was getting up really early.”
Meetings progressed slowly, with an interpreter. “We kept telling them, ‘There’s strength in numbers. If it’s going to get done, you’ve got to unite,’” Bridges says. “We were all starting to open up, and Iraq got embroiled in conflict and we lost track of everybody. We have not had a meeting for quite a while. It’s a shame it broke down, because we were making progress.”