Vol. 43, No. 2
In and Around the Bar
Bar News Highlight
Philip Mervis: Saving the World One Website at a Time
by Courtney Gibb
About the Author
Courtney Gibb is the communications and marketing specialist for the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations, and is editor of The Docket, the DBA’s monthly publication—firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Technology is a big area where small nonprofits need help.
This is a unique way for me to contribute."
Philip Mervis is not your average lawyer. In fact, he can’t be boxed into any neat little professional categories. That would be far too simplistic for the self-proclaimed "jack of all trades." Mervis is the impressive mix of attorney, realtor, world traveler, outdoor enthusiast, and IT guy for local charities. How’s that for a résumé?
A Multitalented Man for All Regions
Mervis, who grew up in Virginia, displayed an early penchant for adventure. He attended college in Pennsylvania and law school in Ohio. He later moved to Sydney, Australia to work for LexisNexis.® Surprisingly, it was in Australia that Mervis caught the skiing—and eventually snowboarding—bug.
When it came time for him to move back to the United States, he had his choice of places to live. He chose to relocate to the epicenter of snow sports, moving to Colorado in 2000. When he arrived, he shelved his JD and worked for a tech startup in Boulder.
Eventually, Mervis began to miss the practice of law. He took the Colorado bar exam, passed it, and ultimately accepted a job as staff attorney for the Judicial Branch in Summit County—where he continues to work and live. This position gave him the opportunity to live even closer to the mountains!
"When Philip interviewed for the position of research attorney, we couldn’t understand why somebody with such diverse experience would take a position like that," said Terry Ruckriegle, CBA President and former Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial District. "Besides convincing them he loved research and writing, he made it clear he wanted to be where he could get in some days on the slopes. Luckily (for us), he accepted the meager offerings of public service."
Of course, being a lawyer, a tech wiz, and now an avid snowboarder were not enough for Mervis. He also became a realtor in Summit County. This professional decision evolved from the numerous law-related real estate questions he found himself fielding in his everyday practice. Mervis realized that his background in basic property law and his knowledge of real estate matters in the Summit County area would make for an exciting side career; plus, it gave him another opportunity to build a website.
His love for computers and the ever-evolving field of technology led Mervis to study those topics in his free time. "It’s amazing what you can learn online," Mervis said. "I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years learning more about technology on my own—Web design, HTML, CSS."
Ruckriegle noted that Mervis was so far ahead of the curve in 2003, he started putting documents "in the cloud" (shared docs folders) for the Kobe Bryant case so that those working on rulings could view each other’s work and make edits without sending around multiple e-mails. This prevented circulating copies that were outdated before they made the rounds from judge to research attorneys and back.
Coding for Charity
Mervis chose to use his continuously advancing, self-taught tech knowledge constructively for good causes. He began helping charities with their technology needs.
"I volunteer to help various organizations—those whose causes I really love," Mervis said. "I base it on organizational goals [and] whether it’s something I can contribute to and learn from."
The causes emerged slowly, beginning with helping the Advocates for Victims of Assault organization with its website and content management system, and building the Continental Divide Bar Association’s first website. In addition to these two nonprofit organizations, Mervis also has worked with the Blue River Watershed Group and Adopt An Angel.
"My way of volunteering and assisting nonprofits has been to help them with their Web presence—whether that’s through a website or social media," Mervis said.
After the most recent round of Colorado wildfires, Mervis reached out to the CBA to see whether he could contribute by building a website for the relief efforts. The process wasn’t feasible at the time, but when the floods occurred a few months later, Mervis’s abilities were clearly needed.
When the floods hit, CBA President Ruckriegle e-mailed Mervis and asked if he was interested in trying to construct a website for the Legal Flood Relief effort. He responded by immediately starting to work on it. "I recalled our exchange of e-mails, phone calls, and edited versions of Orders in the wee hours when we worked together," Ruckriegle said. "I knew he wouldn’t stop until he completed what he had set out to do."
Colorado Flood Legal Relief Program
In the summer of 2013, Mervis took vacation time to build the Colorado Flood Legal Relief website as quickly as possible. "The Colorado Flood Legal Relief [website] is my biggest project to date," Mervis said, "in terms of the number of people using the site—the amount of traffic, and ensuring that it’s mobile-friendly."
The main purpose of colofloodlegalrelief.org is to provide an easy way for lawyers to volunteer online and for the public to submit requests for assistance. In conjunction with the helpline, the Colorado Flood Legal Relief program has received 445 requests for help and there are 316 volunteers.
The website is vital when it comes to streamlining the process to convert requests and match volunteers and lawyers. The improved functionality keeps the public informed on basic laws, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) deadlines, and much more.
"Phil’s knowledge and dedication enabled the Colorado Flood Legal Relief Task Force to use the website for a disaster, allowing disaster legal relief to be more efficient and effective, and to serve more victims, " said Lance Timbreza, attorney and district representative for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. "Phil’s efforts made a difference in people’s lives."
Ruckriegle is quick to add his high regard for Mervis. "I can honestly say that I am personally and professionally proud to have had the opportunity to work with someone so intellectually talented and quick-witted. Philip is not only committed to improving the bar and Judicial Branch, he genuinely cares about helping people in need."
Months after the website launched, Mervis remains involved with the flood relief effort. For example, he continues to write content and post news updates. He is highly complimentary when it comes to the CBA team he works with on the flood relief program.
"The team is terrific. Sharon [Mohr], Heather [Clark], Lance [Timbreza], and Margrit [Lent Parker] give me so many ideas," Mervis said.1 "I’ve really enjoyed working with such talented, bright people. I’m inspired by their passion and energy. They are doing so much and holding it all together."
The Disaster Team—A Template for the Future
Mervis and the Colorado Flood Legal Relief team have their eyes on the future when it comes to disaster relief and legal education. The team’s early efforts continue to grow and act as a model for others. Now that a template has been built for such projects, it can be repurposed in the future for a faster response time.
"Hopefully, we can give back to other states and associations in the future—[to offer] education, relief resources, information, and organization—to extend beyond Colorado in helping," Mervis said.
1. See Ruckriegle, "CBA President’s Message: When the Goin’ Gets Tough, the Bar Gets Goin’," 43 The Colorado Lawyer 5 (Jan. 2014) (additional discussion of the Colorado Legal Flood Relief program, including bar members, staff, and volunteer participants, and related attorney organizations).
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