Redefining “success”: Celebrating the impact and value of universal representation

Ellen Pachnanda with Brooklyn Defender Services suggests that providers use several tactics to promote a broad vision of success and impact within their organizations.Ellen Pachnanda, supervising attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services, November 1, 2020, via e-mail.

  • Celebrate encouraging moments and acknowledge disappointing outcomes. Consider sending weekly roundups to the team that summarize moments of encouragement, acknowledge disappointment and “true losses,” and share tips and lessons. Do not celebrate only traditional “wins.” Whenever possible, look for ways to capture especially powerful moments, such as asking clients if they would like to take photos as they are released from custody—serving as an emotional testament to the tremendous effort it took to get to that moment, regardless of what happens next.
  • Encourage staff to apply lessons learned to future efforts. Management can encourage staff to train others to share what they have learned through practice, contribute facts and client stories to federal litigation, and support policy work intended to bring about systems change. This can help people take what they have witnessed—even disappointing outcomes—and use it to benefit the next case or campaign.
  • Make space to acknowledge pain. It can be extremely difficult when a client is removed, even when they accept the order voluntarily. Pachnanda described it as “a searing moment for our team.” Take the time to acknowledge that pain not only through collective support, but also by giving staff opportunities to help the loved ones left behind. Make sure staff receive recognition for how hard they worked on behalf of these clients and try to instill some sense of pride about the degree of dignity that was provided throughout the process—something that would not have existed but for universal representation.
  • Set realistic expectations for staff new to the model. Particularly for staff who come from triage models, acknowledge the progression from being accustomed to “winning” most cases to rethinking how “wins” are defined. Find ways to repeatedly acknowledge this progression in initial trainings and throughout case conferences. Although staff should always be encouraged to zealously fight cases using all available legal avenues even when the outlook seems dim, it is also important to have frank discussions about realistic outcomes in each case. Supervisors can help guide staff on how to have these necessary conversations with clients about expectations.