Chico attorney wins statewide award
A young woman’s eyes fill with tears as she sifts through an overwhelming mound of legal documents in the Self Help Assistance and Referral Program (SHARP) office at the Superior Courthouse in Chico.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you through all this,” a voice says. Lucky for the woman, Nancy McGie is there with a warm smile and enough knowledge to help her through this legal crisis.
Since 2000, McGie, who’s 60 years old, has been the family law facilitator in Butte and Glenn counties and, since 2006, managing attorney for SHARP. In both roles, she’s providing a valuable service most people don’t even know is available.
McGie is an attorney who travels around the counties of Butte, Glenn and Tehama bringing legal information to those in need. She helps “self-represents"—people acting as their own attorneys—obtain, fill out and file the appropriate documents for everything from divorces, to restraining orders, to bankruptcies.
“The issues we deal with are very upsetting and traumatic for people,” McGie says. “I think after a visit to the self-help center they are more relaxed and confident because they have a better understanding of it all.”
McGie recently won the statewide 2008 Family Law Award for her work. She will be presented with the award on Feb. 20, 2008, at the statewide Family Law Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
“I feel honored to be recognized,” she says. “Everyone really works hard at this office, and I think [the award is] a reflection of that, too.”
McGie was nominated for the award by Tammy Grimm, the court program coordinator of SHARP, who couldn’t be happier about the decision.
“Nancy is very patient with all the litigants that she assists and gives her own personal time,” Grimm beams proudly. “In addition to helping the public she is a mentor to the staff of this program. … There couldn’t be a more deserving facilitator.”
McGie’s dedication to the law and public service came about later in life. Raised in Chico, she graduated from Chico High and even attended Chico State for a few years before transferring to UC Davis, where she got her BA in French in 1969.
She married a lawyer, had a baby boy and girl and worked as a part-time substitute teacher. But when her marriage ended, she struggled.
“It’s like trying to cross a muddy river, getting out on the other side, and trying to get on with your life,” she says. “After I got through the hard part of it I wanted to help other people.”
McGie also noticed that she missed talking about the law and being around legal professionals. Although she was 40 and had a toddler and a 10-month-old at home, she started law school.
“I went to Cal Northern Law School at night for a good four years,” she explains. “It was hard to find time to study, but I really enjoyed law school.”
She worked for the county until 1996, when she opened her own family law practice. She says she didn’t find her true calling, however, until 2000, when she began work as a court facilitator.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy litigation, but I did enjoy resolving conflict,” she says. “The thing I like about this job is that I can help people without advocating any side.”
McGie distributes her time among offices in Willows, Chico, Oroville, Red Bluff and Orland. Her office had contact with 25,820 customers in 2007, 5,360 in Chico alone.
The greatest joy of her job, she says, is helping people get custody or visitation with their kids.
One case in particular had a profound effect on McGie. A woman came to the center trying to get custody of her five kids after her husband attempted to murder her.
“He had slashed her neck and face. She was extremely distraught, but I was able to help her through the process of securing custody,” she says with a sigh. “The case meant a lot to me.”
Another cause dear to her heart is the Grandparent Guardianship Project. Last year the project received $15,000 in additional funding to assist grandparents in gaining custody of their kin. “There are thousands of grandparents raising their grandchildren in Butte County,” McGie explains. “These kids would be in foster care otherwise.”
One of these grandparents is McGie herself, who is currently the guardian of her own 6-year-old granddaughter. “I’ve been through the process, and it has made me sympathize with other grandparents going through the same thing,” she says.
McGie enjoys her job so much she has no intention of stopping anytime soon: “I feel lucky to have this job and I’m very proud of what we do here.”