Honorees Molded Careers by Helping Others
by Dianne A. Van Voorhees
Every year, the Board of Directors of Metro Volunteer Lawyers honors volunteers who have gone beyond the call of duty in offering pro bono legal assistance.
This year’s honorees will be celebrated at the Denver Bar Association’s Barristers Benefit Ball on Friday, April 24, downtown at the Hyatt Denver Convention Center. Get your tickets now for "An Evening on the Nile" at www.denbar.org.
Fran Fontana, President of Fontana & Associates, is an accomplished family law attorney who reliably mentors other MVL volunteers.
Fontana first got involved with MVL as a law student in the 1980s, back when the program was called Thursday Night Bar. "I would go help with intake on Thursday nights. Back then, we met with potential clients and completed intake forms ourselves," she said.
As the nonprofit evolved — serving more than 2,000 clients last year alone — Fontana remains dedicated to MVL.
Fontana is always ready to help to answer complex family law questions, assist with special circumstances and take cases.
Fontana has actively served for many years as an MVL board member, chair and vice chair and as a volunteer. She also volunteers for MVL’s Family Law Court Program clinics.
"The clients are so appreciative of the work we do for them, more so than most of my paying clients," said Fontana. "It feels so good to know that what you are doing matters that much to the person you are working with."
Another important way in which Fontana contributes to MVL’s success is through her work with the Family Law Basics Continuing Legal Education course. Her former law partner and dear friend, the late Barbara Quade, originally lead the bi-annual nuts-and-bolts seminar.
Beyond educating attorneys about the vital basics of family law, the course became a recruitment tool. Significantly reduced tuition is offered to those who take an MVL pro bono case.
"As lawyers, we have a duty to give back. There are too many people who are unable to afford representation. There is no excuse not to lend a hand," Fontana said. "Doing pro bono work helps the overburdened court system."
Fontana serves on the Supreme Court Standing Committee on Family Issues and the Family Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association. She has repeatedly been named a Super Lawyer by Law & Politics. Any attorney whom she mentors or assists with his or her MVL cases is made a better attorney for having had her help.
Gerry Hernandez is the second paralegal in the history of the Barristers Benefit Ball to be named an honoree. Hernandez works at the Law Office of Laura Shapiro, and has consistently worked for firms, like the Harris Law Firm, that value pro bono volunteerism.
Not all employers encourage pro bono work. But those who do realize that it helps the community, generates business referrals, boosts employee morale, and that it is simply the right thing to do.
"It tells me that they value people for who they are and not how much money they can make for them as an employee. The employers that I have worked for since I started with Metro Volunteer Lawyers have all been very supportive of my volunteer work, so I have been very lucky," said Hernandez.
Hernandez credits Judge Randall Arp for introducing her to MVL. She worked for Arp when he was an attorney at Bradley Devitt & Arp.
"He was active with MVL and I was looking for some way to volunteer with my paralegal skills. That’s when I discovered the MVL Family Law Court Program," Hernandez said. "I asked my employer at the time, Bradley, Devitt & Arp, if they would allow me to be gone for a few hours every other month to volunteer. They gladly agreed."
Judge Arp nominated Hernandez because he continues to be impressed by her dedication to MVL. Hernandez also has volunteered at her children’s schools and with her church.
"Volunteering makes me feel very lucky for the many blessings I have been given in my life, such as my job, my health, my home, my family and friends," said Hernandez. Hernandez sees herself doing pro bono work as long as she can, even after she retires. "I can think of nothing more rewarding to do with my time. We live in such a hectic world today that I think we forget about taking time out to help others," she said.
MVL appreciates all of our volunteers and we are grateful to Hernandez, her employers and other legal professionals like her who give of their time and expertise to help the less fortunate.
Bryon Large first got involved with MVL as a law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. After he started practicing, he took a divorce case for MVL.
"I participated in the Family Law Court Program because it allowed me to get in a courtroom with people who were not represented. I had a great opportunity to get comfortable in a courtroom setting," said Large.
Large then started helping MVL clients through the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network. His current pro bono clients include an asylum-seeker who fears persecution in his home country based on his sexual orientation, and two longtime lawful permanent residents seeking a second chance to stay with their families in the United States. Unlike in the criminal justice system, individuals in deportation proceedings have no access to government appointed counsel and, without Large, would be forced to represent themselves in what may be the biggest decision of their lives.
"Bryon Large has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to pro bono immigration work," said Mekela Goehring, executive director of RMIAN.
Every week, Large also assists with "know-your-rights" presentations at the immigration detention center in Aurora. In the isolating world of immigration detention, this is their only chance to speak to an advocate who cares about their interests.
"Every time I wanted to learn something new, I asked for a pro bono case that dealt with those issues," Large said. "This helped me develop my practice, and to become familiar with immigration proceedings, immigration judges, government counsel and immigration officers."
Through the Rocky Mountain Survivor’s Center, Large also assisted a woman who was seeking asylum here in the United States to escape persecution by her home country’s government.
Large said his experiences inspired him to set high goals to help even more people in the future. "I hope to one day to start a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping gay, lesbian and transgender asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries."
A proud father of two children and a busy partner in the Large Law Firm, Large is an example for anyone who wonders if they have time to do pro bono work.
It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to have this opportunity to honor Fran Fontana, Gerry Hernandez and Bryon Large on behalf of Metro Volunteer Lawyers for the 2009 Barrister’s Benefit Ball. We are proud to have them as a part of our team.
Please join us on April 24 at the Ball for "An Evening on the Nile," to celebrate 42 years of MVL and recognize our honorees. We depend on our volunteers and we count on your attendance at the Ball to help raise money for this essential program.
To learn how you can become a part of MVL, go to www.metrovolunteerlawyers.org.