OCBA UPDATE: Win - Win

By Jennifer Grieco

On January 21, 2011, the OCBA hosted its first Pro Bono Mentor Match training for mentees and mentors, sponsored by the Oakland County Bar Foundation ("OCBF"). We were privileged to have the Honorable Judge Elizabeth Gleicher from the Michigan Court of Appeals serve as our keynote luncheon speaker. Judge Gleicher spoke passionately about how her experiences as a pro bono lawyer helped to not only define her as a person but also to grow as a lawyer as she encountered uncomfortable or unfamiliar experiences. She recalled the cases fondly as being some of the most meaningful in her career. In fact, it is the pro bono cases that her sons remember most about her litigation practice and still recount proudly today.

Coincidentally, our training occurred just four days after we celebrated the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We were reminded by the presenters that poverty is still the civil rights struggle of today. While access to justice cannot remedy the root cause of poverty, our willingness to provide free legal services can demonstrate that the hurdles these individuals encounter matter to us because they are members of our community. When a family can avoid an eviction that would render them homeless or an individual expunges a criminal matter so he can obtain employment and a new beginning, the entire community benefits.

Cases are now being assigned to mentors and mentees by LADA and FLAP.1 If you have not yet been matched, please know that it is only a matter of time. The need for pro bono assistance or the mentoring of new lawyers is not expected to wane anytime soon. If you have not yet volunteered but would like to do so, we still need you.2 At the very least, please encourage newer lawyers to volunteer for the program. Mentors really want to assist the mentees with their professional development and therefore, the benefits to the mentees are immeasurable and can have a lasting effect on how that attorney will practice for years to come.

As Carlos Vicent (class of 2010) recently said with respect to the program, "In addition to learning and working with my mentor on the case we were assigned, I have been able to call on my mentor in a multitude of situations from what kind of motion should I file in this case to how to prepare a proper brief. The program has helped me both personally and professionally. I would encourage more new attorneys to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain a mentor because you can grow in ways that you never thought possible and serve a great need in our community at the same time."

Serving as a mentor is rewarding on many levels. It allows a lawyer to reflect on where they have been, to be reminded of the passion we had as young lawyers, to be exposed to dynamic and energetic attorneys, or just to obtain the satisfaction that comes from helping someone grow professionally.

Immediate Past President Kurt Schnelz is currently serving as a mentor and stated, "It warms your heart to see lawyers doing what they should be doing, which is helping other people." Kurt has thoroughly enjoyed the experience, finding the new lawyer to be engaged and responsive, and the pro bono client to be extremely appreciative of their efforts, which have only required an hour of Kurt's time to date. In fact, he has offered not only to go to court with his mentee but also volunteered his assistant's help in obtaining any necessary forms, thereby demonstrating the generosity and quality of our mentors.

OCBA Director Victoria Valentine commented, "This is a GREAT program. I really enjoy working with my lawyer mentee. I believe the reassurance that the young lawyers get from the program will give them the confidence to continue working hard and become some of the best lawyers around."

I have found myself volunteering to assist my mentee with issues beyond the case assigned and providing basic career advice, none of which has taken more than a few minutes of my time on the phone or responding to an e-mail. Mentees in the program have also obtained contract work, been introduced to managing partners for future hiring needs or had their resumes shared with attorneys who are looking to hire. We hope that consequently we can keep these new lawyers in Michigan, and active in our legal community and bar association. Their success is our success.

Many of us will attend the OCBF's 12th Annual Signature Event in April. It is because of the funding from the Foundation, through the generosity of our members, that we are able to offer programs such as the Pro Bono Mentor Match for the benefit of our profession and our community. There are not enough words of praise for the many individuals, firms and organizations that support this event, and as a result, support the OCBA's community outreach. However, please let me say it once again--THANK YOU ALL! And a very special thank you to the OCBF board of trustees, currently led by President Thomas Tallerico, for their dedication and hard work year after year.

These remain tough times in Michigan. But the OCBA continues to come together to improve our profession and to assist our community in need. We all benefit as a result.

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1Those who attended the training were provided with valuable materials from our legal aid partners, Legal Aid & Defender Association ("LADA") and the Family Law Assistance Project ("FLAP") that included all of the basic law, necessary forms and sample pleadings for landlord/tenant matters, family law, debt collection and criminal expungement. With these beneficial materials, any lawyer, no matter the experience level, can handle one of these cases. The materials, along with the ability to view a recording of the training, are available free of charge at the OCBA offices for any mentees or mentors who were unable to attend the training. Additionally, the meeting rooms at the OCBA office can be used for the Pro Bono Mentor Match participants to meet with clients and/or mentors at no charge, provided the space is available.

2The program materials including the mentor and mentee applications, overview and guidelines are available under Member News on the OCBA Web site at http://www.ocba.org/Pro-Bono-Mentor-Match-Program-Materials.id.2019.htm.

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Jennifer A. Grieco, a partner with Neuman Anderson PC, is the 78th president of the Oakland County Bar Association.

Published: Thu, Mar 24, 2011