It was 25 years ago, and Rollie Goss was sitting in a Florida courtroom after hearing the family court was overwhelmed and in need of volunteers. After just a few moments of sitting in the back of a chaotic courtroom he asked himself, “is this what is deemed appropriate for our most at-risk and vulnerable children?” He immediately volunteered to help and was quickly “hooked.”
The rest is history.
In the intervening years Rollie, a recipient of the DC Bar’s Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award, has handled approximately 35 adoption or guardianship matters. Through his pro bono service with Children’s Law Center, Rollie has used his legal skills to help create permanent, loving families for vulnerable children who have sometimes faced years of abuse and neglect.
This may seem an unlikely path for the blogmaster of an award winning blog on reinsurance, an expert on the defense of class actions and other complex arbitration matters, and the managing shareholder of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt’s DC office. That Rollie found a niche in this area of law is proof that lawyers from any background can identify rewarding pro bono opportunities in family law – or any unfamiliar area of legal practice.
To his clients, foster parents caring for children ensnared in DC’s abuse and neglect system, Rollie is a life-line. His competence, keen understanding of adoption law and calm demeanor help him guide and reassure clients about the legal process. Dedicated and persistent, Rollie “quietly advocates for his clients no matter the length of time it will take to prevail,” according to a colleague.
Rollie once represented a couple who cared for an infant girl since she was only 10 days old. The child’s mother struggled with debilitating mental illness and was incapable of taking the baby home from the hospital after her birth, and the whereabouts of the child’s father were unknown. Rollie navigated the legal issues and the emotional weight of the case with both skill and empathy for the birth family, and the child was eventually adopted. Afterwards, Rollie’s clients reached out to Children’s Law Center to thank us. “We’ll always be grateful to Children’s Law Center for connecting us with Rollie,” they said. “He did an amazing job navigating us through a long legal process.”
“We couldn’t be happier.”
In another case, Rollie represented a couple he describes as “repeat customers.” Children’s Law Center had connected Rollie with the couple when they adopted their first child five years earlier and when it was time to bring another child into their loving home, they reached out again. Through his legal advocacy, Rollie ensured that the child, who had significant special needs, would continue to have access to specialized services post-adoption, an incredible relief to his clients. Rollie says that his most memorable clients are ones like these, who take on the responsibility of parenting children with special needs.
Rollie’s commitment to pro bono is contagious. A colleague described Rollie as a mentor who brought him “under his wing to show him the ropes” in pro bono matters, something he has done for countless associates at the firm. For its size, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt’s Washington, DC office has made a significant impact on Children’s Law Center’s pro bono program through Rollie’s leadership.
But apparently Rollie’s generosity does have its limits. Even with his considerable responsibilities at the firm and ability to easily bring in other colleagues to help on his pro bono matters, Rollie insists on having his own active docket of pro bono cases so that he can continue to connect with these clients in a personal way.
In 1997, Children’s Law Center launched its first Pro Bono Adoption Project focusing on helping more than 1,000 foster children find safe homes through adoption. As we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, Children’s Law Center is grateful to the over 2,000 attorneys who have volunteered through our expanded pro bono program, which now includes a wide range of cases including special education, housing conditions and custody.