Posted June 15, 20202:10 pm
The Phillips file
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Favorite activity in Northeast Ohio: Fishing
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For Dinola Phillips, lawyering isn’t just about helping people, but becoming the advocate her friends and relatives could’ve used when they were navigating legal troubles without anyone in their corner.
When she was very young, she thought about being a painter, but it turns out she has shaky hands. At one time, she wanted to be a pro golfer — “I thought I’d be a little Tiger Woods back in the day,” she said.
It was a drive to really help other people, though, that began steering her toward the legal field as early as 8 years old.
“My vision is to just give back daily in the work that I am doing,” Phillips said.
Today, Phillips is achieving just that as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. There, in the housing practice group, she specializes in using the law to create stability for school-age children whose families are dealing with legal problems, job loss, eviction and many other flavors of hardship.
The legal aid job posting called to her as she wrapped up law school, during which she participated in a “Street Law” program that took her to juvenile detention centers to work with incarcerated minors. Many of them, she said could’ve avoided the justice system if they had just had some level of support.
“It was in working with these minors I knew I wanted to have some type of impact in their households, changing what their normal is for generations to come,” Phillips said. “That’s why, when I saw the posting for legal aid, I knew it was a perfect fit.”
Phillips has already worked a variety of cases that have helped children stay in homes, stay with parents and stay in school. Her efforts help the city’s most vulnerable children.
“By removing barriers that prevent or limit a child from succeeding at school — housing instability, guardianship issues, unsafe living conditions at home — Dinola helps families establish a strong foundation for academic achievement and engagement in school,” said Colleen Cotter, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Dinola’s dedicated, compassionate approach to her work inspires trust and confidence in her clients.”
“I do it all for my clients,” said Phillips, who also serves as the legal aid liaison for “Say Yes to Education.”
“I know that sounds really cliché,” she added, “but I’m not just doing my job. I’m there to help. Hearing from my clients, even just in terms of checking in with them during the pandemic, having them make statements like ‘I really appreciate you; no one has ever been in my corner before, no one has ever really fought for me,’ that gives me the energy on even the most stressful days to keep fighting.”