Program Offers ‘New Alternatives’ to Associates: Adam Leamon Joins Metro Volunteer Lawyers
by Sara Crocker
Volunteering was something Adam Leamon was always interested in, but he was hard-pressed to find the extra time while he was in law school at Boston College. When he was offered a job with the Boston firm Ropes & Gray, he didn’t foresee having any extra time in the future.
Before the 25-year-old joined the firm, he was presented with an option of volunteering for a year instead of diving in as an associate in January.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to do meaningful volunteer work," said Leamon, who opted to spend his year with Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL).
In 2009, Ropes & Gray created the New Alternatives Program, a fellowship for associates who spend a year doing pro bono work for organizations that serve the public interest. Programs such as this arose amid the fallout of the financial crisis, when many large firms found themselves overstaffed. Meanwhile, the economy was taking a toll on nonprofits that serve those in need.
"The program was motivated by the firm’s desire to support nonprofits in need while also providing unique opportunities for professional development at a time all businesses were affected by the economic slowdown," Ropes & Gray Pro Bono Manager Rosalyn Nasdor said in an e-mail.
Nasdor said the program, which is in its second year, offers a number of benefits: it allows attorneys to get hands-on experience they can bring back to their firm, and it helps an organization in need of volunteers, so the organization in turn can better serve its clients.
"We were recognizing in the pro bono realm that…there are more and more poverty-related clients," Nasdor said. "At the same time, so many organizations were having to cut budgets. It was a great time to step in and fill that breach."
The program offered to connect the associates-turned-fellows with some pre-approved organizations, but they were also invited to present their own proposals. The goal is for the fellows to work with organizations that serve the public interest and have a connection with the poor, but they don’t have to practice law during that time and there are no geographic limitations.
Those in the program are paid a stipend and given health insurance through Ropes & Gray, but are full-time volunteers for the organization.
Leamon sought out Colorado because he has family and friends here. He was connected to MVL when he called the Colorado Bar Association and asked what organizations they work with that offer pro bono legal assistance.
While with MVL, Leamon will work with the Family Law Court Program, which assists clients with relatively uncomplicated, uncontested divorce or custody matters.
"It’s a huge donation to the community," MVL Executive Director Dianne Van Voorhees said of the program.
Van Voorhees said she has heard of large firms, particularly on the East Coast, offering these types of programs, but this is the first time MVL has had first-hand experience with one. With Leamon in the office, MVL will be able to quickly match up clients that have tight deadlines for their legal issue.
"This is a neat opportunity to cover some bases that we otherwise couldn’t cover," Van Voorhees said.
Leamon acknowledges that he wouldn’t be here had his firm not allowed for the opportunity, because it is ultimately the firm’s decision to run such a program.
"They have to make the commitment to lose an associate," he said
Although he doesn’t consider it as a real "loss" to the firm, given the skills the attorney will return with, it is one less person to help manage the firm’s caseload.
Nasdor said Ropes & Gray has been able to handle its workload and the firm now has fellows from the first year of the program returning. Based on the program’s success, the firm will offer the program for a third year in 2011.
Those returning from the fellowship are coming back with more experience and more confidence, Nasdor said. In the program, their day-to-day contributions range from public speaking to advocacy work, she added, providing additional experiences they may not have had otherwise.
"I think it’s a great opportunity to get some hands-on legal experience before you get started at a large law firm," he said.
Leamon has been welcome addition to MVL.
"He’s a really smart person and he catches on very quickly," Van Voorhees said.
While in Denver, Leamon also has plans to enjoy the state’s 300-plus days of sunshine. He hopes to climb a 14er and ski.
When he returns to Ropes & Gray, he hopes to focus his work on debt and private equity.
Since starting in September, Leamon’s interaction with MVL clients already has been humbling.
"It’s amazing what they’re able to live on and do," he said. "It makes you truly appreciate what you have. It motivates me to do more to help them."