Meet Cassandra Celestin, CBJC’s New Director of Pro Bono Initiatives
by CBJC Staff May 21, 2021
We are thrilled to welcome Cassandra M. Celestin as the City Bar Justice Center’s new Director of Pro Bono Initiatives! As a former senior staff attorney at the Children’s Law Center in the Bronx, Cassandra brings to CBJC nearly 12 years of experience as a family law trial attorney and advocate for children. In this new role, Cassandra will utilize her deep experience in public interest law and commitment to client advocacy to spearhead initiatives in collaboration with CBJC’s civil justice projects and pro bono partners. The following interview provides a closer look at Cassandra’s background and experience – and, on a more personal level, what helps her stay motivated and inspired to do this important work.
- What prompted you to pursue a career in public interest law?
I have always been passionate about helping others and treating others fairly. When I applied to law school, I did so with the intention of practicing law in the public interest field. As someone who is family oriented, I wanted to work in family law with the hopes of making an impact in the lives of children. As such, while attending law school, I took as many classes and enrolled in as many internships and externships as I could that would afford me the opportunity to learn different areas of family law. For example, I took classes in juvenile justice, took an externship in special education law, and enrolled in the Child Advocacy Clinic. Each class and experience solidified that a career in public interest law was the path meant for me, a path that would allow me to advocate on behalf of communities that are often underrepresented and to help amplify their voices. After graduating law school, I worked at the Children’s Law Center, first as a volunteer, then as a paralegal, and then as an attorney for the past 12 years, during which time I advocated for children in the Bronx Family Court in primarily custody, visitation, family offense, paternity, and related child protective proceedings.
- What has been the most rewarding part of your practice?
In the public interest field, attorneys may not always receive a “thank you” for the work they do. But as a former advocate for children, I have learned to appreciate the simplest of things. So, when a child drew a picture of me during an interview, wrote a note on how nice they thought I was, made a comment about how much they liked coming to my office, or did say “thank you” for listening to them, I felt reassured that I was accomplishing my goal of making an impact in someone’s life, the very purpose of pursuing a public interest career. Developing personal relationships with my clients, being someone that clients can turn to and confide in, and providing them with an environment of comfort and security has been the most rewarding part of my practice.
- Who or what motivates you to do this work?
Previously, I mentioned that I have always been passionate about helping others, and it is this very passion that has served as my motivation to do public interest work. Despite the many challenges that may arise when working in the public interest field, my passion and empathic nature motivate me to do the most I can to make a difference in the lives of others. That is what has allowed me to remain dedicated to the field of public interest for the past 12 years.
- How do you recharge and stay inspired?
As a family oriented individual, spending time with family serves as a source of inspiration for the work that I do. I come from a family whose members have also been dedicated to serving others—from medical assistants to nurses and other medical professionals, to teachers and higher education administrators. Not only have I been surrounded by colleagues committed to public interest, but I have also been surrounded by others on a much personal level that keep me inspired to help others. In addition to spending time with family, I am someone who truly enjoys learning new things. I am the kind of person who signs up to receive all kinds of newsletters, articles, and notifications on topics ranging from legal and public sector insights to the most popular seasonal recipe to “must watch” movies on Netflix. Keeping myself informed and learning from others motivates me to continue to grow professionally and personally.
- What influenced your decision to join the City Bar Justice Center in this capacity?
I am so excited to have joined the City Bar Justice Center as the new Director of Pro Bono Initiatives. Both my experience as a public interest attorney and CBJC’s mission of addressing the justice gap by providing broader access to legal representation influenced my decision to join the team. As a former attorney for children, I was charged with the duty of providing zealous advocacy for my clients and providing opportunities for their voices to be heard both in and outside of the courtroom. In addition, as a public interest attorney, I know how important legal representation is in the court room, and I have seen first-hand the consequences of proceeding without it. There are so many individuals who do not qualify for court-assigned, free attorneys, and go without critical legal assistance because they do not have the means to afford private representation. The Director of Pro Bono Initiatives position will allow me to continue to advocate for New Yorkers facing social and economic barriers by amplifying clients’ voices and making their stories known to partners who are willing and able to help, so that in turn I can help generate even more interest and desire to do pro bono work.
- What are you most excited for in your new role?
There are a few things that I am excited for in my new role as the Director of Pro Bono Initiatives and it is hard to pick just one. In addition to being excited about joining the CBJC team, I am also excited to start meeting and connecting with members of the private legal sector who are committed to pro bono work and share the same goals of wanting to make an impact in the lives of others and assist those seeking help and justice from our legal system. I must also add that I am excited about learning different areas of law and assuming a position that will allow me to tap into many different skill sets required of the role. I have been a trial attorney in family court for approximately 12 years, so I am enthusiastic about working at CBJC with its many different projects, which will allow me to learn so much more outside of the realms of family law. I am also looking forward to gaining additional skills in such things as fundraising and program management. I welcome the change that this new role brings me, and I look forward to making an even greater impact in the public interest field with the help of the CBJC team and pro bono community.
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