/ Blog Post
My Impact is a conversation series from Equal Justice Works, using interviews with alumni to shine a light on what’s possible with an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. In honor of National Preparedness Month, Equal Justice Works Marketing and Communications Director Heena Patel spoke with Brittanny Perrigue Gomez, a 2018 Fellow who served in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps. Brittanny currently works as the disaster benefits team manager at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Brittanny Perrigue Gomez could not imagine having any other career. “As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an attorney in some form or fashion,” she said.
Interested in exploring a public service career path, Brittanny chose to attend St. Mary’s University School of Law for its supportive and community-oriented learning environment. The school has a “focused curriculum on public service and getting out in the community and doing that kind of work,” explained Brittanny. While at St. Mary’s Law, Brittanny took advantage of these learning opportunities by participating in law school clinics and federal government internships and externships, which helped her to land her first post-law school job at the US Small Business Administration (SBA) working on disaster loans.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in 2017, it destroyed Brittanny’s parents’ home. Brittanny took inspiration from this life-changing experience to make a career shift, and focus on dedicating her time and energy to help people, like her parents, navigate the many legal challenges that arise following a disaster. When she saw a posting for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), she knew it was the perfect fit. “It allowed me to take my newfound legal ability [from working at the SBA] and apply that in a way that I could help individuals that were living through something that I had once experienced in my life.”
In 2018, Brittanny joined the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, where she worked alongside 23 other Fellows to provide free civil legal services to communities affected by disasters in Texas and Florida. As a group, the Fellows leveraged their combined knowledge and expertise to better support disaster survivors—discussing cases on monthly calls, by email, and when they would meet up at conferences around the country. “We took those opportunities to discuss overarching trends that we were seeing happening within these disaster agencies…[and to] collaborate on how to build community partnerships with various disaster volunteer agencies and organizations, as well as long-term community partners that may have been established,” said Brittanny. “[We would also] come up with plans and strategies on how to engage in community education and outreach in a meaningful way.”
Brittanny’s experience in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps also showed her the value of being a well-rounded lawyer and the importance of having a basic understanding about multiple areas of law so you can be a better advocate for your client. “When you work with a disaster survivor, it’s not necessarily one legal issue. It’s not just FEMA, it’s not just a title clearing problem,” explained Brittanny. “Disaster survivors, they also get burnt out. So sometimes as an attorney, you’re not just being their lawyer, you’re being their advocate, you’re being their cheerleader.”
Since her Fellowship, Brittanny has remained at TRLA where she now works as their disaster benefits team manager. In this role, she manages a team of 10 attorneys, paralegals, law clerks, even Equal Justice Works Fellows, who work on mostly natural disaster issues. “The work I was doing as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, I’m still doing every single day at TRLA… but I’ve also been able to expand a little bit into some other areas that also impact disaster survivors, because you know, you never really stop learning as an attorney.”
When asked to share advice for Equal Justice Works Fellows who will begin their Fellowships this month—Brittany encouraged them to embrace what they don’t know. “There’s no point in faking it until you make it. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it, so find great mentors, and really invest that time in identifying exactly what you don’t know. And then work to gain that knowledge,” she commented.
Before wrapping up the conversation, Brittanny advised Fellows and new lawyers to take time to think about their individual disaster plan and if they are truly prepared for a disaster. “Because if you can make sure that you, as an organization or as an attorney are taken care of, then you can turn around and use your ability as an attorney to provide services to the community at large,” she said. “There’s that phrase you hear in legal aid all the time, ‘you have to put your oxygen mask on first, then you can help others.’ It’s the same for disaster preparedness.”
To learn more about Brittanny’s work advocating for people impacted by disasters both during and after her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, watch the full interview here.
Interested in kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!