Meet Angela Vigil, partner and Executive Director of the pro bono practice of Baker & McKenzie, mother of four, and #1Nation4Children Campaign Co-Chair. We had a quick chat with Angela to talk about her passion for children’s rights and how the pandemic is impacting her work and family life.
I manage our pro bono practice, which focuses on children’s law, civil rights, human rights and other areas of impact wherever in the world our lawyers are doing pro bono work. Their work doesn’t always take the form of legal action. Sometimes it’s policy advocacy, training local lawyers or being of service to an NGO. Over 30 of our offices around the globe, for example, created the Legal Atlas for Street Children, a comprehensive online database documenting laws affecting street children and homeless youth across the globe. We have had the help of 25 different in-house legal departments at corporations. The goal always is to tackle a social justice challenge – and do our best to solve it.
Where does your personal passion for the rights of children come from?
I went to law school to do public interest work – not for children in the beginning. But early on in my criminal law work, I was bewildered by the lack of clarity about civil rights for children. It’s still a murky area, whether people under 18 have any rights at all under the law in the US. Right out of law school, even before I passed the bar, I started representing families in low-income neighborhoods. Since then the outrage I felt at the abuse, neglect, disempowerment of children – and the satisfaction of doing something about it has never left me.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
We are at a furious pace. Our lawyers don’t have more time, but they do have different time. Their schedules and their rejuvenated passion allow them to get more involved in pro bono work. We have one team that decided to take the time they didn’t need to spend commuting to create a tool kit for transgender kids. COVID and the racial justice moment have put people in a reflective place. Who am I? What do I want to be? And the answer is, not only a litigator or a corporate lawyer – I want to be more.
You have four children. How has it affected family life?
For me and my husband, it has had the upside that we have dinner as a family every night. A great treat for all of us in previously busy lives taking us different directions. I say this with a heavy heart because I know so many parents are not so lucky. I traveled nonstop until COVID hit, so it’s been a pleasure to sit with my child and help with homework instead of on Skype. I am not so sure the kids like it as much as we do.
As a mother in this moment, what are your wishes for the future?
My kids need to see their entire life as making things better for others. We have had dinner conversations lately when I can see my children understand in a deeper way what I do for a living. Baker McKenzie does pro bono work to protect children being held in detention in immigration and juvenile facilities always – but now COVID has made it more urgent. The idea of kids being locked up really struck a nerve with them. I’ve heard them outside my door saying – Don’t interrupt her – she’s helping a kid. I don’t want them to ever forget that idea that we all have to help each other.
Why do you believe so strongly in Children’s Rights?
Child welfare is not the hottest topic. Everyone is always looking for the most recent horrible thing. Meanwhile, Children’s Rights is out there being the voice for the voiceless and having a huge impact.
Let me give you one example. We have been co-counsel in a case in Miami since 2017 when we began investigating a mosaic of abuses in the foster care system. There is an extreme lack of foster homes – especially for teenagers. And after being bounced around 10, 20, 50 or more times – as if that is not enough damage – these kids are being denied mental health care services they desperately need. The very system charged with protecting them is instead harming them, perhaps irrevocably. In 2019 we reached a settlement, which will impact the lives of almost 2,000 children and make lasting, scalable change for generations.
One client, one case doesn’t appeal to my lawyers. We want impact! That’s what you get when you work with Children’s Rights.
Children’s Rights has worked for more than 25 years to create broad systemic change in child welfare, juvenile justice, healthcare, and immigration systems. Our work is even more crucial today, as the children we serve disproportionately bear the brunt of the crises of this tumultuous year.
And we don’t just help one child. We have helped 1.5 million and counting.
Don’t miss out on an evening of gratitude, celebration, and fun to celebrate 25 years of fighting for kids. Join us as we honor Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winner Cyndi Lauper in recognition of her lifetime commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable children from homelessness.
Special guests Lexie Perez-Gruber and Sixto Cancel invite you to discuss how we can create #1Nation4Children.