Call to service-- Mentor Match program to aid pro bono efforts of association

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Three past presidents of the State Bar of Michigan are on board. The newly sworn in State Bar president has pledged his support as well.

The list of past presidents of the Oakland County Bar Association that have promised to help continues to swell, as does those offering to assist from the current OCBA leadership ranks.

The cause they are rallying around is near and dear to the heart of those in the legal profession--pro bono work. But as the OCBA observes "Pro Bono Month" in October, it will do so with an added purpose in mind--mentoring.

The two concepts will be wed in the inaugural Pro Bono Mentor Match program, an OCBA initiative that will be launched at a special kickoff ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 14 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Oakland County Commissioners Auditorium.

Jennifer Grieco, current president of the OCBA, is understandably enthused about the potential benefits of the program.

"We have an increasing need across the county and the state for legal aid services, and one way to address that demand is to broaden the pool of attorneys available to offer pro bono services," Grieco said. "We believe this program, in which young attorneys are mentored by lawyers with greater experience in the profession, can have a positive impact on the legal aid clients we serve while also offering mentees an opportunity to work alongside some of the finest attorneys in the state."

In this month's issue of "Laches," the monthly OCBA publication, Grieco spells out the mechanics of the program.

"The relationship of mentor/mentee will be case-specific, i.e., the mentor will guide and/or advise the mentee with respect to a pro bono case such as a landlord-tenant matter, a minimal-asset divorce, a petition to modify child support, or a criminal expungement," Grieco wrote in her column. "It is through these simple yet valuable litigation matters that law school graduates will gain the experience they need to become professional and marketable lawyers."

The individuals who will be assisted in the program are clients of the Legal Aid & Defender Association and the Family Law Assistance Project, Grieco indicated.

To underscore the importance of the pro bono effort, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly will be among the keynote speakers at the October 14 launch of the program, according to Grieco.

"Young lawyers learn many things from their mentors, and not only the nuts and bolts of practicing law," Kelly said. "They also learn what the legal culture does--or does not--value. The Pro Bono Mentor Program can certainly help new lawyers sharpen their skills and broaden their legal experience. Just as importantly, the mentors can teach lessons about integrity and service, so that we support a culture where pro bono is a regular part of practice."

George Googasian, Tom Ryan, and Tom Cranmer--all former presidents of the State Bar--have agreed to serve as mentors in the program, Grieco indicated. Cranmer offered his reasons why:

"Today's economy makes it harder and harder for new lawyers to find a position with an established law firm right out of law school," Cranmer said. "Thus, many young lawyers are forced to start their legal careers by opening a law office all on their own. Much of the 'business' of being a lawyer and the practical aspects of advising clients is often inadequately covered in law school. Thus, having a seasoned, experienced attorney available to answer questions and provide sound advice is invaluable. One of the true benefits of the Oakland County Bar Association's mentor program will be helping new lawyers become better lawyers, both for themselves and, more importantly, for the clients they serve."

Anthony Jenkins, the new president of the State Bar and an attorney with Dickinson Wright in Detroit, said the OCBA program "helps meet the need for legal assistance for families who live at or below the poverty level" and fulfills a lawyer's "professional obligation to support pro bono services for the needy" in the community.

"In short, the OCBA program is an excellent pathway for younger and more senior lawyers to come together to meet an important need among low and moderate income families, and opens opportunities for younger lawyers to gain experience and to develop exposure and skills," Jenkins said. "I would like to see the OCBA model replicated across the state and beyond."

Published: Thu, Sep 30, 2010