Melissa Mazur doesn’t hesitate when asked why she volunteers: “It’s always been a no-brainer,” she says, and it shows. She was an advocate for housing rights long before entering law school and, in the past year, she’s drawn on this experience to become one of VIP’s most reliable volunteers representing tenants in eviction cases.
While Melissa is a relative newcomer to VIP, having
taken her first case in December 2017, she is no stranger to service. After earning her bachelor’s degree at La Salle University, she spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working with Los Angeles’s homeless population. Melissa then returned to Philadelphia, where she served the city’s at-risk youth and attended Temple Law School’s evening division. She now handles significant commercial litigation at Kaufman, Coren & Ress.
Since taking her first VIP case, Ms. Mazur has helped numerous Philadelphians avoid homelessness. Landlord/tenant matters suit her, as she can readily fit them into her workload, and they offer a change of pace from the complex cases she sees every day. But the biggest draw is the impact she has on her clients and the city as a whole. “I love seeing the city change and grow, but I also see the downsides to that,” she says. “I want to preserve what makes Philadelphia wonderful: its community and its people.”
Melissa’s VIP cases are not without challenges. She recalls one case in which she protected a family from retaliatory eviction. The client, Ms. Green (a pseudonym) was pregnant with her second child, and asked her landlord to address a rodent infestation. In response, the landlord served eviction papers and demanded rent from months prior to the client’s tenancy. While Melissa negotiated with opposing counsel, Ms. Green went into early labor, and the pest issue grew more urgent. Undeterred by the surprises, Melissa won Ms. Green the right to stay in her home rent-free while she searched for new housing.
Such a case could exhaust any attorney, but Melissa has always returned for more (she has even represented several former clients in appeals). VIP staff attorney Mike Jones calls her a “perfect volunteer” and praises her compassion and sense of mission.
“She’s a holistic hero, at once a caregiver and a warrior.”
Melissa’s partnership with VIP not only lets her serve others, it also helps her grow as an attorney. She loves the complexities of commercial litigation, but is eager to explore more areas of the law. Volunteering makes this possible. With her pro bono clients, she can dig into aspects of procedure she might otherwise never see. She has improved as a negotiator, and grown more familiar with the “intangibles of the courts.”
More than anything, pro bono service has reaffirmed Melissa’s passion for the law. At the close of each case, she recalls what attracted her to the legal profession. “Most attorneys I know went to law school because they want to see justice served,” she says. “Volunteering with VIP is one way you can continue to live that out.” A no-brainer, indeed.