Jahnisa Tate Loadholt jumped right into pro bono work almost immediately after moving to D.C. from Atlanta about two years ago. She had just finished up a clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and had joined Alston & Bird as a litigation associate. Once she started at the firm, it didn’t take her long to connect with Jon Fee, Senior Counsel and Chair of Alston & Bird’s Washington, D.C. Pro Bono Committee, and a member of Legal Aid’s Board of Trustees.
In her pro bono practice, Jahnisa works on a variety of cases, but she is particularly drawn to family law matters. “I had a great experience working on a grandparent adoption case early in my career,” said Jahnisa. “I wanted to do more work helping families, and I am fortunate to be in a position where I can offer service to families in need.”
During DC Pro Bono Week, we are posting profiles of some of the amazing pro bono attorneys who partner with Legal Aid to make justice real for individuals and families living in poverty in our community. Want to get involved? Contact Jodi Feldman.
Many pro bono lawyers shy away from child custody cases, but not Jahnisa. “Family law cases often involve issues that are intensely personal for the parties,” she said. “The cases can be ‘messy’ at times, but the reward of helping my clients solve a real-world problem far outweighs the emotional challenges that these cases can present.”
Jahnisa has handled several child custody cases referred from Legal Aid, achieving favorable settlements for her clients, including a mother who felt unsafe when dropping off and picking up her toddler from visitation with the toddler’s father because the father had been physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive toward her, and a mother who was concerned about her toddler’s father smoking around the child during overnight visits because of the child’s special health needs.
“Unlike a lot of litigation, ‘winning’ means something very different in a child custody case,” noted Jahnisa. “The best outcome for my client often means finding some middle ground that works for all the parties involved – that works for the family.”
Beyond the personal fulfillment that comes from effectively advocating for her clients, Jahnisa finds that that her pro bono practice offers opportunities she doesn’t necessarily find in her regular practice at this stage of her career. “Handling pro bono matters has afforded me the chance to run my own case,” said Jahnisa. “I handle court appearances, make key strategic decisions, take the lead in negotiations, and set the deadlines.”
Jahnisa added that in handling her pro bono cases, she also has been able to hone some critical “soft skills” such as effective client communication and diplomacy. “Through my pro bono work, I have grown more confident as a lawyer and learned to take ownership of my cases.”