|The Colorado Lawyer|
Vol. 28, No. 6 [Page 39]
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Pro Bono Success Stories
The Difficult Case is Still Worthwhile
by Daniel A. Hepner
This is the text of a speech given by attorney Daniel A. Hepner on May 28, 1999, for the Boulder County Bar Association's Annual Pro Bono Luncheon.
I am not quite sure why I was asked to speak, because I see many of your names in the bar association newsletter month after month, taking case after case from Boulder County Legal Services. Although I have taken numerous cases over the last twelve years, my name does not appear nearly as often as all of yours, and I have not made near the contribution that all of you have made.
I have been working on the same case since August 1997. My client was referred to me to resolve financial problems stemming from state and federal tax debt (which Lotto tickets were supposed to solve but did not), and a note and deed of trust held by a friend on the client's residence (which was previously owned free and clear) that was supposed to have funded debt repayment. The friend decided not to fund. However, the note and deed of trust were left in place. It was a mess. The transaction involving the note and deed of trust had to be undone in order to enable the client to obtain a reverse mortgage to pay taxing authorities and creditors, and to provide additional funds for living expenses.
We are now close to the end. By we, I mean my client, who has significant cognitive dysfunction (dementia); me; Joe Jonikas, who worked on the tax matters (pro bono); Sharon Svendsen, who represented me when I filed a conservatorship proceeding for my client (pro bono); the therapist, Ed Josephs, who attended meeting after meeting with the conservator, me, and my lawyer to help the client process what was happening; and Dave Sanderson (again pro bono), who represented my client in a municipal court proceeding after a neighbor was allegedly bitten by my client's cat and called animal control. Throughout the course of this case, when things were not going as my client thought they should, it was always due to the fact that at my direction and to accomplish my hidden agenda, all of the lawyers and the system were working in concert with me to prevent justice, and, on top of that, I did not seem to know what I was doing.
To be honest, it has been difficult: sometimes daily hour-long telephone calls in my office, calls at home on weekends, and expectations that my client has of the legal system and her perception that it has let her down. But there is still satisfaction to be had from pro bono representation. The knowledge that you are, for these clients, their last hope for representation in a system they do not understand and, in some cases, abhor. The knowledge that you have made a difference in their lives at a time when they have no one else to turn to for help in solving their problems. The satisfaction in crafting a resolution out of one big mess. Of course, there is the satisfaction of giving something back to the community; but in my mind, this is not the reason to do pro bono work. The reason is simple. It helps the clients through a time they did not think they could survive at a time when they had nowhere else to turn, and, in my case, you get to do it with the help of other attorneys, much more qualified than I am, who are willing to share their expertise.
While working on this case, I have often felt that this will be the last one. But it is not; and, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that pro bono work has been both worthwhile and rewarding.
This department is edited by Jo Ann Viola Salazar, CBA Director of Public and Legal Services. Submission of success stories is welcome. Contact Jo Ann at (303) 824-5310 or (800) 332-6736.
© 1999 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=1999.