Staff Profile: Margaret Terry, Esq.

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Margaret Terry, Esq.

Margaret Terry knew that she wanted to serve the underprivileged from an early age. She was raised in the South and it made an indelible impression on her reason for becoming an attorney, she saw first hand the awful effects of segregation. After graduating from east Carolina University in 1967, she enrolled at the University of North Carolina Law School. Ms. Terry pursued a legal career with the sole purpose of representing the disadvantaged.

After finishing law school in 1970, Margaret joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and was sent to Cleveland. During her second year with VISTA, she was placed at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland working in the Juvenile Unit before being hired permanently in January 1973. By 1979, Ms. Terry was handling a variety of Legal Aid cases, which allowed her to develop knowledge in a variety of aspects of the law. Today, Ms. Terry is a supervising attorney for Legal Aid’s Intake Unit. Now in her 40th year of service at Legal Aid, Ms. Terry just announced her retirement.

When Ms. Terry considers her experiences at Legal Aid, she highlights the “influence the mere presence of an attorney can have on a person facing a difficult situation.” For instance, she remembers the case of a woman who had been involved in a car accident while driving without insurance. The woman agreed to make small monthly payments to the insurers of the other car of the accident until she had paid off her entire liability for the incident. She made timely payments out of her meager income and was surprised to receive a notice from the insurance company stating that she was being sued for failing to make the payments. The woman contacted Legal Aid and was represented by Ms. Terry, who argued there already was a payment agreement which the client had honored. The case against the client was dropped and she resumed her regular payments. Recalling the experience, Ms. Terry said, “I did almost no work, except go to court with the client. She [the client] was about to be harmed by the legal system. For her, it was really important just to have an attorney declare that she was not signing a new agreement. All it took was the presence of an attorney.” When asked why she dedicated her career to Legal Aid, Ms. Terry points to her original motives for entering the legal profession: “I went to law school to be able to serve the disadvantaged and working at Legal Aid has allowed to me do that. I like what I do and I like the people I work with. There has been no reason to leave.”

Ann McGowan Porath, the managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Intake and Volunteer Lawyers Program, highlights Ms. Terry’s service, “Margaret’s dedication to serving clients is a constant reminder to all of us of the mission of Legal Aid. On a personal note, Margaret is not only a valuable colleague but a trusted mentor and friend. I rely on Margaret’s common sense and sound judgment as my counsel on so many occasions. Her great homemade chocolate is an added bonus!”

+ Ms. Terry will retire in May 2012 – she will be missed terribly!

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