When Matthew Barr pursued a legal career, there wasn’t a high-minded notion of serving Justice spurring him on. “The honest answer is I was good at it,” he says and then laughs. “I’m not some superhero wearing the JD cape.” In fact, the long-time volunteer and current Board Member’s relationship with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic began as it so often does—with a relationship. While attending Law School, Matthew joined a Christian Legal Society group, which was led by Josh Abel. Over the years, the two maintained a friendship, and when Josh began working at the Clinic, he encouraged Matthew to volunteer.
Upon serving as an intake attorney at John Knox Presbyterian Church back in 2006, Matthew first became aware of the need for free legal services. “I thought I was aware of it, but I really wasn’t,” he says. “Until you sit down with people who need the help, who explain their situation, who have never really been able to talk to someone who they believe can help them, and suddenly you’re sitting down in a room with them one-on-one… That’s when you realize the need that exists and the good that can come from just giving a little bit of time.”
In his full-time position, Matthew works as a contracts attorney at Barnes & Thornburg—and he loves what he does. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he says. But his service to the Clinic feeds him in an important way. “Being a part of the faith community here has really helped open my eyes back up to what’s important in life,” he says. “It’s just made me realize much more that everybody is struggling; everybody needs patience, needs a listening ear, needs to be given the dignity of being treated like a human being. I think that’s what the Clinic does for the Indianapolis community.”
Matthew knows that sometimes strangers to the Clinic might make assumptions about it, but he’s quick to share the heart of the mission. “The Clinic as a Christian organization doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t exclude; it opens its arms to everybody,” he says. “And it’s important that people in the community understand that while the mission arises out of a Christ-centered point of view, the services are available to everybody and the good is intended to benefit everybody regardless of faith.”
On occasion, although a bit intimidating at first, Matthew takes pro bono cases outside of his practice area. He recalls a particularly difficult case from the Julian Center involving a young undocumented woman, her daughter, and the woman’s abusive partner. When the woman was deported, the father was given custody. But after he was sent to prison, the child ended up in the foster system. For two years, Matthew worked through the courts with the Department of Child Services and the federal governments of both the United States and Mexico. “We were able to obtain an order from the judge directing that the child be sent to Mexico to be with her mother,” he says. “This was the best outcome for my client and this girl that you could ever imagine.”
This case impacted him greatly and Matthew wants to encourage others to push themselves beyond what they think they can do. “Simply by going outside our comfort zone a little bit…we can make a dramatic difference in the lives of people,” he says. “But we’ve got to take that leap of faith. Even just a tiny step of faith.”
Categories: Staff Highlight