Denver Bar Association
March 2001
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A New Networking System: Pro Bono

by William E. Walters

Friends you never knew you had.
By Bill Walters
DBA President-elect

I stared at the form for quite a while. As a DBA Board of Trustees member, I had easily agreed to take one pro bono case from Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL). But then I had to answer the question—what type of case was I willing to take? Barb Chamberlain, the Executive Director of MVL, explained that dissolutions of marriage (once known as divorces) were the hardest cases to place for a number of reasons: they are filled with emotions and hard choices; and they can go on for a long, long time. I thought hard about the other choices such as landlord-tenant, consumer protection, wills and the like, but my eyes kept returning to the line marked "dissolution of marriage." I took the leap, and made my mark.

Within the next few days, Barb presented a number of cases to the Board of Trustees. Once again, I kept thinking twice about those dissolution cases. But as the moment of truth arose, I raised my hand and within a few days, the phone rang. A young woman with an infant child . . . a temporary restraining order against the husband already in place . . . a hearing on a permanent order would soon follow. The restraining order was in the capable hands of another volunteer attorney. But issues of immigration law, visitation, maintenance, child support and the like all remained for resolution. Almost three weeks later, a permanent restraining order was in place with agreed-upon limitations on child visitation. More pleadings were filed and a deposition taken to preserve testimony after an emergency hearing with the judge. Each day continues to bring a new set of challenges and questions.

Has it been easy? No. Will the experience be with me for a long time? Absolutely. Do I have second thoughts? From time to time. But the most amazing and rewarding part of this process has been the overwhelming display of support from our legal community. Nancy Elkind quickly gave me short (and satisfying) answers to the immigration issues. Bob Montgomery and Martin Brown answered other questions, provided pleadings and discussed strategy. Terre Rushton (supposedly in retirement) talked of statutory nuances. Melanie Collier of Colorado Legal Services found time to help (even while fighting the flu). Barb Chamberlain answered questions quickly and to the point. Karen Hubler handled the restraining order issues professionally and expertly. Suddenly, I was supported by the best and the brightest of our metropolitan legal community—from Louisville to Littleton and Arvada to Lakewood.

Those of us in smaller firms know the camaraderie which often develops between and among such firms. We give each other ideas about office management and bounce ideas off one another about cases. As a former associate of a very large Denver firm, I also have enjoyed the luxury of calling on my friends in that firm from time to time. I never realized that a single pro bono case would bring the help of those who have a wealth of experience in this area of law to my side. Not only did I receive answers to my questions, but also support and encouragement. Martin Brown and Bob Montgomery even took time from their busy schedules to "check up" on me.

Just as I was enjoying the wide spread support of attorneys, I had another pleasant surprise. The case required a deposition on very short notice, and I needed a certified court reporter. Once again, I went to the phone and Barb Chamberlain directed me to Barbara Berger of Hunter & Geist. Ms. Berger coordinates pro bono court reporting services for the Colorado Court Reporters Association. What a find! On just a few days notice, Barbara (who had a heavy schedule) made several phone calls to secure a reporter. When she was unable to find a volunteer because of the short notice, she managed to fit the case into her schedule. She was professional, prompt and genuinely interested in finding a solution

My case grows more complex with each passing day and, in all honesty, I sometimes find myself asking "why do we resolve conflicts this way?" I don’t know if that question will ever be answered, but I do know that I would not trade the challenges of the last 60 days, tempered by the dedication of attorneys and court reporters.

We all know that as licensed attorneys we have an obligation to ensure equal justice before the law. Many of us meet that responsibility in a myriad of ways, from serving on community boards to taking on large-scale litigation to helping friends. However, at this moment, some of the weakest members of our community are in dire need of direct legal services. Answer the DBA Trustee’s Pro Bono Challenge and sign-up for an MVL case today. The rewards can come from the most surprising direction.

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