Vol. 28, No. 12
Pro Bono Success Stories
The Rewards of Mentoring
by W. Robert Montgomery
Three years ago Mick Walker, then a third-year night student at the University of Denver College of Law, and Jon Nicholls, then Chair of the Denver Bar Association Legal Services Committee, hatched a great idea. Since evening division students did not have the same internship and Student Law Office opportunities as day students, and since Metro Volunteer Lawyers ("MVL"), the Denver metro area pro bono program, always has more cases than volunteers, night students could be paired with MVL mentor attorneys to do one case together for a low-income client.
The program is now in place and has proven to be beneficial to all concerned. An MVL client gets prompt representation, the attorney gets assistance on a pro bono case, and the student gets a learning experience not otherwise available. The following is a success story by W. Robert Montgomery, a sole practitioner in Lakewood, Colorado, and a representative from the First Judicial District Bar Association on the MVL Advisory Board.
--Barbara G. Chamberlain
Executive Director, MVL
I had the opportunity to participate in the MVL law student mentor program recently. I was paired with Greg Ortiz, a third-year law student at the University of Denver College of Law, to work on an MVL case dealing with a dissolution of marriage.
Greg and I first met to discuss the basic procedure involved in the dissolution of marriage process in Colorado courts. He reviewed the appropriate statutes and procedural rules. Then we met with our client. Greg interviewed the client and obtained the information necessary for commencing the case, with very little assistance from me. After the client left, we discussed the positive aspects of his interview and reviewed some changes he might want to consider making, although he did an excellent job for his first client interview.
From the outset, Greg and I agreed and understood that it was his case. He was given the opportunity to use my office computer and forms to complete the pleadings to be filed in the case. I initially asked him to draft the petition and other documents from scratch to compare them with the forms I use in my practice to see if he had included all of the information required by statute in his pleadings. He also had to prepare and record a lis pendens to stop the sale of the marital residence until we could resolve the issues of property division.
With only a few suggestions, Greg controlled the progress of the case. We completed the required discovery under Rule 26.2, as well as some additional discovery requests we felt were necessary. We did not have a particularly cooperative client. Greg was able to experience some of the frustrations of dealing with a client who was not the most reliable in terms of participating, as well as being somewhat demanding and unrealistic in expectations.
Prior to holding the required conference between our client and spouse (who was not represented by counsel), Greg and I discussed the issues that needed to be resolved. The parties were able to reach an understanding at the conference, which Greg reduced to a Separation Agreement that was signed by both parties. Again, I let Greg have the use of my forms and computer to draft the agreement. He also prepared all the additional documents necessary for the entry of a decree, which were filed with and approved by the court.
Greg was also afforded the opportunity of drafting a Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") to divide a marital pension asset. That task required a great deal of time on his part, both in terms of gaining an understanding of the retirement plan involved and in drafting an order that would be acceptable to the plan administrator. After the QDRO was approved and entered as an order of the court, Greg drafted the Motion and Order, allowing our withdrawal as attorneys for our MVL client.
While this case did not provide Greg with the opportunity to conduct a court hearing, it did give him an opportunity to participate in the dissolution of marriage process from start to finish. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work as a mentor with someone as conscientious and eager to learn as Greg, and I hope we have developed a friendship that will last beyond the close of this case file. I think Greg learned a great deal about the "practice" of law during our work together. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to share some of the practical knowledge accumulated over my twenty-seven years in the profession. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to know that I have been able to contribute to a fellow attorney's learning experience, while helping another MVL client complete the emotionally difficult process of the dissolution of a marriage.
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