New Mexico Legal Aid

Advancing fairness & justice for all
Free legal aid in New Mexico



Reviving Connections and Strengthening Expertise: NMLA Hosts Firmwide Meeting

NMLA Firmwide MeetingIn a world that has become increasingly digital and remote, the power of face-to-face interactions and collaborative learning experiences cannot be overstated. This sentiment was brought to life on Wednesday, August 23, as New Mexico Legal Aid hosted its first in-person firmwide meeting since 2019.

The event marked a significant milestone for the organization, bringing together over 100 staff members from across the state. The day was a balanced blend of camaraderie-building activities, expert training sessions, and heartfelt recognition of outstanding achievements.


Bridging the Gap: Reuniting Beyond the Screens

The buzz was palpable as NMLA staff members gathered at the venue. The air filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation as the meeting provided a long-awaited opportunity for colleagues to finally meet in person. The day kicked off with a warm cup of coffee and informal chats with the organization’s new Executive Director and Deputy Director. The icebreaker bingo game that followed served as a fun way to break down barriers and allow staff members to connect with one another on a personal level.

NMLA Firmwide Meeting SonyaSonya Bellafant, NMLA’s Executive Director, shared, “It was an incredible undertaking to resurrect the firmwide staff meeting. The work was well worth the effort. I personally heard many statements about how long it had been since team members saw one another. I also heard many staff excitedly state how great it was to match faces with names because there were many people they had never met.”

The meeting’s energetic atmosphere continued with a series of professional training sessions. Led by esteemed legal professional William Slease from the New Mexico State Bar and a representative from Lexis Nexis, these sessions aimed to enhance the skill set and knowledge base of New Mexico Legal Aid’s staff. A Kahoot-style quiz game injected an element of fun while testing procedural knowledge, underlining the organization’s commitment to continuous learning.

Michelle Garcia, NMLA’s Deputy Director, expressed her sentiments, saying, “It was a total pleasure to get to see colleagues from other offices in person and share some training time. I believe the hours we spent together helped to connect us in ways that are not possible over phone or video.”

The meeting not only renewed connections but also served as a platform to build a strong and unified organizational culture that thrives on collaboration and shared goals.

Celebrating Excellence: Awards and Acknowledgments

New Mexico Legal Aid also wanted to recognize the exemplary efforts of its team members. Awards were presented to outstanding attorneys across different practice groups, celebrating their commitment to justice and advocacy. Additionally, a special emphasis was placed on those who guided the organization through the challenging times of the pandemic. The awards, chosen through a staff-wide vote, symbolized the collective appreciation for resilience and dedication.

Awards presented at the meeting include:


    • Annual Attorney Fee Award
        • Consumer Law Practice Group

    • Practice Group Distinguished Services Award-Housing Law
        • Emma Stahl

    • Practice Group Distinguished Services Award-Family Law
        • Jennifer Kletter

    • Practice Group Distinguished Services Award-Consumer Law
        • Caprice Benoit

    • Practice Group Distinguished Services Award-Economic Security Law
        • Alicia Clark

    • Paralegal of the Year Award
        • Mar-y-Sol Anaya

    • Legal Secretary of the Year Award
        • Kathleen Blackgoat

Distinguished Service under COVID Emergency Orders

    • Edna Sprague

    • Jean Philips

    • Evangelina Mercado

    • Rita Aragon

    • Sara Coffey

16th Annual Legal Services Providers Conference: Elevating Expertise

NMLA TrainingThe sense of growth and empowerment extended beyond the firmwide meeting as NMLA attorneys delved into the 16th Annual Legal Services Providers Conference, held at the New Mexico State Bar. The two-day event boasted a lineup of thought-provoking sessions that aimed to expand legal expertise and foster deeper understanding of critical issues.

The first day of the conference commenced with a focus on ethical representation and tools for attorneys dealing with diminished capacity and self-determination. Tim Gardner of Disability Rights New Mexico and Kaisa K. Marshall of Gold Standard Forensics, LLC, engaged attendees with insightful discussions and strategies.

Sessions addressing crucial topics such as special juvenile immigration status, reproductive rights, and 2023 fines and fees legislation followed, featuring experts like Jessica Martinez from the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, Hailey Zock of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, and Monica Ault from the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

The second day of the conference delved into pressing matters such as the legislative update for 2023, special education needs and challenges, protected property in bankruptcy and garnishment, transgender cultural fluency, and housing issues updates. Esteemed speakers including Nicholas Cordova of the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, Adrien Lawyer from the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, and Brian Eagan from the Albuquerque Housing Authority led these enlightening discussions.

Empowerment Through Knowledge: Support Staff Training

NMLA TrainingWhile attorneys were engaging with the Legal Services Providers Conference, NMLA’s support staff were not left behind in the journey of growth and learning. Led by Carol Garner, Managing Attorney of the Statewide Intake, Referral, & Advice Unit at NMLA, the training encompassed vital areas of eligibility for NMLA services, client assessment, communication skills, ethical considerations, and crisis intervention techniques. The inclusion of training from the Agora Crisis Center and the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico demonstrated NMLA’s commitment to holistic and empathetic support.

In a world where connections and shared learning experiences are paramount, New Mexico Legal Aid’s firmwide meeting and subsequent Legal Services Providers Conference stand as shining examples of the power of collaboration, knowledge sharing, and community building within the legal profession. As organizations continue to adapt to changing landscapes, these events remind us that face-to-face interactions and continuous learning remain essential elements in fostering growth and success.

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