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Aug. 10, 2023

Working With Vulnerable Populations: Emily Guerrero

Emily Guerrero joined Nelson Mullins as the  pro bono coordinator in the firm’s Charleston office in June 2022. Before joining Nelson Mullins, Emily served as the director of career services at the Charleston School of Law for three years and as attorney and director for 14 years with Catholic Charities Office of Immigration Services in Charleston. She received her JD from the University of South Carolina and a BS from Wake Forest University.

What do you do at Nelson Mullins?

I am the firm’s pro bono coordinator. I work alongside Norah Rogers and Elisa Kodish in the Pro Bono Department to coordinate and source pro bono opportunities for our attorneys to meet their  50-hour annual goal. I handle many of the administrative aspects of the program, such as keeping up with case expense and hour budgets and updating our database. I work with legal services organizations across the firm’s footprint to create partnerships and build pro bono programs that attorneys participate in.

For example, earlier this year, Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services approached us asking if we could help  survivors of human trafficking with orders of protection and criminal expungements. The Pro Bono Department  coordinated a training for our attorneys on  orders of protection, restraining orders, and criminal expungements and created a detailed training manual with all the relevant statutory provisions and court forms. Recently, Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services referred us our first case, and one of our attorneys is assisting a survivor with her restraining order

How did you get started in this field?

For the bulk of my career, I was an immigration attorney and the statewide director of Catholic Charities Office of Immigration Services. I worked with vulnerable populations of people, including immigrants who had been the victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, violent crimes, and human trafficking. I helped immigrants apply for immigration benefits, such as visas, green cards, and citizenship. After that, I served as the director of career services at the Charleston School of Law.

This job gives me the opportunity to continue to serve vulnerable groups of people in our communities but also have the resources and support of a great firm behind me.

What do you find meaningful about the work that you do?

I’m really passionate about everyone having access to justice and this job allows me to work on those issues and create programs to meet those needs. I’m learning about many different practice areas and the amazing pro bono programs that legal services organizations have across the United States.

What advice would you give lawyers and staff about working with vulnerable populations of people?

Meet clients where they are. Drop your expectations and judgments about your clients. You’re  going to have clients who make bad choices and it’s not your place to judge them. Many clients have experienced trauma and hardship that we cannot wrap our heads around. Instead, focus on meeting  them where they are and helping  them to move forward.

Practice patience. It’s an honor to walk through [their situation] with them. The best thing you can do is to be present, hold their hand, and walk alongside them. It’s about relationships and connection with your clients. Keep in mind that people will have different responses to trauma. Accept your clients where they are in their experience.

Shift your  perspective from focusing wholly on your client’s trauma to helping your client move towards a better outcome. Being an advocate for survivors of trauma is difficult and can result in vicarious trauma and burnout. Making this change in perspective can protect you and help your client focus on moving towards a better future.

Emily can be reached at (843) 534-4102 or at