Denver Bar Association
January 2005
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The ABCs of Helping a Child

by Don Hoagland

Editor’s Note: This article continues the series inspired by DBA President Mary Jo Gross, where guest columnists write about their volunteer/charity involvement.

Business lawyers dig in and out of a lot of difficult factual contexts in trying to help people deal with legal problems. We may wander around with fraud, incorporations, bankruptcy, mergers and taxation. We usually deal with people who think in terms of profit and loss as often as right and wrong. Sometimes we call it ‘fair or unfair.’

Gina Matero, attorney
at Dorsey & Whitney,
with Cinthya Monteou,
DPS student.
Outside of our practice we often get the chance to serve on boards or committees that do things we care about. This could involve hospitals, foundations, charities or Bar committees. A lot of useful service is rendered by lawyers in those contexts—and in the process they often add something substantial to their reputations and stature in the community—also maybe even nationally.

Often, these are prestigious positions in which we may feel secure. I’d like to recommend something challenging and rewarding—perhaps outside your comfort zone.


Consider volunteering to be a reading mentor for 3rd grade students at a Denver Public School who test below the desired "normal" level for their age. This experience has brought me to a reality that most lawyers meet rarely, if ever, in a business-oriented law practice. That brand of reality has a crucial importance in the future of our community. Children who don’t read well fall farther and farther behind as they struggle through school. The probability that they will become negative, frustrated and aggressive increases daily.

Brian Daniel, attorney at Ritsema
Lyon, with Shaquille Joiner,
DPS student.
And that’s only the children’s side of the table. What about us? As attorneys, we can help counteract the considerable tendency to see our community from the viewpoint of the privileged and secure. That alone seems possible and desirable to me, but being involved with these children might do even more. Just as pro bono work for the disadvantaged expands our connection to the community, helping children learn to read broadens our grasp of the human element of many management decisions that we might be consulted about.

Imagine being consulted about a major decision affecting wages or working conditions after having direct experience interacting with all levels of our community, not just the privileged. Doesn’t that experience provide a more logical, balanced perspective? I think so. As a channel for this experience, I offer the opportunity to mentor school children who aren’t performing at the "normal" level. I’ve done it for about five years, as have lots of other people in our office—young lawyers, old lawyers, secretaries and paralegals. You usually get a different child every year. Give it a try.

If you are interested in investigating the Denver Public Schools mentoring program, please call Assistant Superintendent John Youngquist at (303) 764-7914.

Don Hoagland is so well-known in working with Legal Services and Pro Bono that the CBA named an award after him. Also, he and his wife Mary won the CBA Award of Merit in 2003.

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