August’s Volunteer of the Month
Olivia Gabriel is a solo practitioner, a former teacher and Defender Association attorney, and a standby VIP custody volunteer. Like most solo practitioners, she assists clients with a mixed bag of legal issues ranging from family law to estate planning to quiet title. And like most solo VIP volunteers, she does more than her fair share of pro bono.
Olivia moved to Philadelphia after law school to work at the Defender Association, where she spent eight years representing clients in criminal proceedings. She connected with VIP after opening her own practice. “I do it to remind myself why I practice law,” she says. “Of course, I want to pay the bills, but ultimately I want to help people.”
Olivia is a key volunteer in VIP’s custody program. She not only represents clients at their custody hearings; she also volunteers for prep calls with parents who do not qualify for representation by a volunteer. These calls help litigants navigate Philadelphia’s Family Court, where the majority of filings are pro se.
“I remember one parent from an advice call,” Olivia says. “I was in court later with another client, and that parent recognized my voice. She came and hugged me. When people have to go to court by themselves, it helps to have someone say, ‘These are the custody factors. Let’s see how they apply to your case.’ They feel relieved.”
Olivia has no plans of slowing down and is now working on her first VIP tangled title case. “I’ve had so many people help me,” she says. “It’s a heart-opener to be able to give back. That’s why I went to law school, and that’s why I do this work.”