In his first year as a criminal defense attorney, Andrew Schriver has learned winning doesn’t always mean not guilty. A win can come from a lesser plea or connecting a client to social services. Mostly, though, it’s about being someone’s strongest advocate in the face of a legal system that can be intimidating and scary.
“It means doing better for a client than they could have done on their own,” says the Lakewood attorney.
While Schriver’s mother, Gail, spent decades as an in-house paralegal for Eaton Corp., Forest City Enterprises and the Cleveland Clinic, the 27-year-old has been drawn to helping the little guy.
“I’ve always been at least a little anti-authority,” says Schriver, who graduated from CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law last year.
So when a friend, Leonard Baum, a 24-year-old transgender man, kept putting off legally changing his name since starting his transition in 2014, Schriver offered to help.
“I don’t think cis people realize just how much you have to use your ID on a daily basis,” says Baum. “Every time I buy cigarettes or go to a bar or vote. If I want to take out a loan, make a W-2 or put my name on a lease, it’s going to come up.”
The process is relatively simple legally, but appearing in court to proclaim his identity felt daunting to Baum. In late August, they submitted a name change request along with a copy of Baum’s birth certificate to the court. An announcement of the pending name change appeared in the Daily Legal News for 30 days. Then on Oct. 12, Baum’s name was made official when he appeared in court to provide reasoning for changing his name.
Schriver stood beside him as his friend, lawyer and most importantly, his advocate. “He’s so dedicated to social justice and marginalized communities,” says Baum. “Having Andrew by my side, I can’t imagine having it any other way.”
They celebrated with lunch downtown. And in the euphoria of victory, Schriver wrote a Facebook post offering free document preparation and legal services to any transgender person in Northeast Ohio seeking a name change.
“People need to have someone stand up for them in this setting that is designed to terrify you,” says Schriver. “This seemed like an easy way to just do something that was the right thing.”
As a lawyer just starting out, Schriver doesn’t have the capacity to take on larger pro bono cases, but this was a place he could have an impact. Clients pay the $135 filing fee, and Schriver takes care of the legal work. But it’s actually so much more than that.
“As the gay rights movement progressed through the last couple of decades, unfortunately the first people to be left behind are generally trans people,” says Schriver, who is bisexual.
In fact, a little more than a week after Schriver’s post, a Department of Health and Human Services memo outlined an effort to establish a legal definition of gender as a biological condition determined by one’s genitalia — effectively eliminating transgender identity.
“We need to stand in solidarity with other members of the LGBT community,” says Schriver. He has received more than 50 requests for assistance with more than 20 already beginning the name change process as of Oct. 31. Additionally, others have stepped up, offering to pay the filing fees for clients who can’t afford it.
“I think people are excited that something good is going on,” says Schriver. “No matter how small, something halfway decent is occurring in the world.”
Schriver plans to team up with Equality Ohio and TransOhio to share resources and even aspires to bring together attorneys who can provide free legal services to anyone under a certain income threshold.
“Where people are being oppressed and where the government is attempting to fully erase people, you have an absolute moral obligation to act, to speak, to do something about that,” he says.