Attorney of the Month Award for Pima County
By Michele Mirto
Every month, Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) recognizes an attorney for his or her efforts and contributions to the program. The VLP’s monthly award is a distinct honor: of the 1100 attorneys who volunteer their time with the VLP, only 12 receive the VLP’s Outstanding Pro Bono Attorney Award each year.
Randi Burnett was selected to receive the Outstanding Pro Bono Attorney of the Month Award for January 2016. Randi joined the VLP in 2012. She participates in all of the VLP family law clinics and assists with the program’s Self-Service Project at the Superior Court where she supervises law students as they meet with clients in need of assistance with family law issues. In her short time as a volunteer, Randi has assisted one hundred and seventy-four clients. Recently, Randi completed work on a family law case, helping a grandmother become the legal custodian for her three grandchildren. Randi dedicated forty-five hours to the matter. The VLP is grateful for Randi’s support of the program and for her continued friendship
Q & A WITH Randi Burnett
Where are you from? Wellton, AZ. It’s a tiny town of about 2,000 people 30 minutes west of Yuma.
Where did you go to college? I went to NAU for undergrad and received a BSBA in Business Management.
Where did you go to law school? U of A
How long have you lived in Tucson? I’ve been here for almost 12 years. I moved to Tucson to attend law school.
What is the history of your practice of law? I spent five years with VLP of Southern Arizona Legal Aid as the Student Coordinator/Staff Attorney for the program. I moved into private practice in June 2012 and now work at Waterfall Economidis Caldwell Hanshaw Villamana PC.
What are your current practice areas? I practice family law.
What drives you to volunteer with VLP? I worked at VLP for five years so I know first-hand how grateful low income people are to receive free legal assistance. Many people come in so scared of the legal process and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve lightened their load just by explaining basic courtroom procedures or giving them a step-by-step process for resolving their case. I also enjoy meeting the law student volunteers. They are all so interesting and unique! I think the U of A law school does an absolutely fabulous job of finding highly intelligent and diverse students each and every year. Interaction with the law students is one of the best aspects of volunteering with VLP.
I also really do buy into the belief that it’s worthwhile to help those less fortunate in our community. One of my favorite quotes is, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Volunteering helps me feel like I am part of a society that takes care of the weakest among them. I don’t want to live in a world where we don’t take care of people who truly need help. That’s a type of “evil” to me so I avoid doing nothing by volunteering.
A great anecdote from your VLP experiences? I once helped a woman represent herself in a divorce from beginning all the way through trial. She came back to the VLP clinic over and over again to get help and guidance throughout the entire process and went through two days of trial on her own. She had recently lost her job, had four kids to take care of, and was divorcing a very nasty, verbally abusive man. She was so grateful every time she came in to meet with us and worked so hard on her case. She came back after everything was finished and told me that the judge had complemented her on her preparedness and that she had done quite well at trial. She also told me that representing herself through the divorce gave her so much confidence in herself that she was starting to feel some self-worth again after years of being told she was worthless. Her case wasn’t the worst I’ve seen through VLP or the most urgent, but the growth that she experienced as a person that I was able to witness was just breath-taking. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her and every time I think of her it brings a smile to my face knowing that I helped her in a way that changed her outlook on life.
One reason you would encourage attorneys to volunteer with VLP? I think it gives you different perspective and keeps you grounded. It seems like it can be easy to forget how good you really have it until you encounter someone that has to struggle just to get by. Volunteering reminds of that and makes me more appreciative of all the good things I have in my life.
Favorite Tucson restaurant? I don’t really have a favorite Tucson restaurant. I just haven’t found a place that I absolutely love, though many places are very good. My favorite restaurant is actually El Charro in Yuma (no relation to the El Charro here in Tucson). I highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be driving through Yuma on their way to San Diego.
Things you do when not working or volunteering your legal services? I mainly hang out with my two kids and my husband.
If this award was accompanied by prize money, how would you spend it? On a trip to another country – I love to travel but have been hampered due to my lack of an accommodating budget.
Best thing about being an attorney in Tucson? As many others have said, the small, friendly bar that we have in Tucson. It’s great to be able to develop good relationships with people that you see over and over again.
Worst thing about being an attorney in Tucson? Walking to the courthouse in July and August.
If you ever retire from private practice, it will be to start a new career as a ______? A midwife, a psychologist or a hostage negotiator. I’ve been told that I’m very good at calming down people that are freaking out so it seems like I’d have some success in one of those three occupations.
Things that you wish were closer to your office? My house. I have an awful commute from the northwest side to the southeast side. It drives me bonkers.
Any hidden talents? I’m fantastically good at the board game “Scene It” (and pretty much all the variations of it). My family won’t really play with me anymore. Plus, I get really competitive while playing so it’s kind of a lose-lose situation for them.
What is something that not many people know about you? That I’m the oldest of seven children.
Are you a dog or a cat person? Dog, I guess, though I do like cats, too. We have two Chihuahuas: Rosebud and Sasha. My daughter is a huge animal lover and she is constantly campaigning for us to add more animals to the family. She’s currently locked in a battle of wills with my husband to see if she can get a parakeet or a new puppy. It’ll be interesting to see who wins because she’s a force to be reckoned with.
What do you do to unwind after work? Exercise or crash on the couch. I’m also fortunate enough to have a husband that lets me sleep late on Saturday mornings so that I can recuperate from the week.
Favorite song? I’m a country girl so right now it’s “I Love Your Love the Most” by Eric Church. I also love pretty much every George Strait song from the eighties. I also really like “Next to Me” by Emilie Sande because it reminds me so much of my husband.
Food you can't live without? Chocolate chip cookie dough. I can’t keep it in the house because I’ll eat it. I absolutely looooooove it.
Any bad habits? Yeah, my diet for one. I am not the healthiest eater though I am working on getting better. I’m kind of bossy too (huge eye roll from my husband and siblings) but again I feel like I’m working on getting better on this one too.
Best vacation destination? Venice, Italy. I loved how romantic and old the city is.