LAW WEEK: What types of pro bono projects is Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie involved in?
TAMI GOODLETTE: We do a variety of different types of work with individual lawyers taking on different kinds of pro bono work. And then also groups of lawyers taking on pro bono work.
We do a lot of that through the U.S. District Court Civil Pro Bono Panel. We do a fair amount through the federal court’s pro se clinic. We do some Habitat for Humanity work, Colorado Lawyers Committee and the Colorado Civil Appellate Panel and then there’s also the Faculty of Federal Advocates’ bankruptcy pro bono panel, and we fairly regularly have bankruptcy cases that we help with there. So there’s a variety of outlets and ways that we encourage the attorneys to participate in pro bono.
LAW WEEK: How did each of those projects get identified?
GOODLETTE: Some of them are just through individual lawyers’ dedication to certain groups throughout the state of Colorado and the Denver Metro area. For example, one of our partners, Chad Caby, is a bankruptcy attorney and specialist, and he has worked with the bankruptcy pro bono panel through the Faculty of Federal Advocates for years, so he’s really expanded our participation in that program and the pro bono panel.
Sometimes it’s through individual lawyer connections and what they value and want to spend their pro bono time on, and they spread that to other attorneys in the firm. And next thing you know, we’re a regular participant or promoter of pro bono work or taking on cases through an individual methodology.
I think what’s important, is really that we want to promote individual lawyers’ passions and what they see as important in their communities and with their clients and in our greater state, so we do that with our young lawyers as well.
We talk to them about: What are you interested in? What are the community groups that you want to be involved in? Which boards do you want to be on? What kind of pro bono work would you like to do? Would you like to do something where you’re actually representing individuals in litigation? If so, we’ll get you involved in the program over on the federal court. Would you prefer to do something where you go to legal night, for example, and help folks who have somewhat more routine legal questions on a weekly or biweekly basis? There are all different kinds of ways to get involved, and we try to bring an individual approach to what each individual attorney feels passionate about and what they want to do in the future and dedicate some time for pro bono work.
LAW WEEK: So on that note, tell me a little bit about the overall focus of the firm on those types of projects. What do you think the role is for attorneys in getting involved in that?
GOODLETTE: We certainly have an expectation and we encourage our attorneys to participate in pro bono. It’s an important part of the ethos of the firm and the culture of the firm that folks are active in pro bono and also active in their communities.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily considered pro bono work but being on boards and being good corporate citizens is important for us as well. We certainly promote that. That’s part of our evaluation process for our attorneys: what kind of work are you doing in the community?
What kind of work in the pro bono realm have you done recently, and we encourage dialogue about that, and then that also enables us to brainstorm with our attorneys about future opportunities in the community or for pro bono work that they’re individually interested in and just simply setting up connections among attorneys who are interested in similar matters.
For example, I recently had been doing a lot of work down on the Texas border with Mexico representing immigrant women and children who are detained. In our Arizona offices, they are also doing a lot of similar types of work with immigrants. So we’ve been doing a lot of cross-office collaboration on our immigration work. And it’s been really exciting to connect our attorneys to one another but also serve the public interest and do great work on behalf of immigrants.
LAW WEEK: That’s something that’s definitely been a big topic throughout the legal profession, in terms of getting involved. When there is a big topic social issue that comes up, do you typically see that call to action or that response through the firm?
GOODLETTE: I think that’s right. That’s a good way to put it. We hear especially from our younger attorneys, “Hey, I want to do this,” or “I’m interested in this,” and we want to support that and have our first response, hopefully, be, “Yes, and how can we help facilitate that and promote that, and how can we connect you with other attorneys in the firm or elsewhere that can help make that happen?” It’s a matter of having a positive, innovative attitude about that.
Current events just help promote people’s excitement about the work, so it’s always a good opportunity to drum up more interest in pro bono and in public interest work when there’s a hot topic of the day. Certainly, right now, immigration is consistently in the news, and we have a number of people at our firm across various states but also here in the Denver and Colorado Springs offices that are doing different types of work on behalf of immigrants.
LAW WEEK: With that being a cross-office effort, how are your pro bono efforts structured throughout the firm. Are things typically brought up on a local level or an office level?
GOODLETTE: We certainly have our pro bono expectations and policy firmwide, but our offices handle pro bono and participate in pro bono in their communities in different ways.
For example, our Las Vegas office is very involved specifically with the legal aid foundation there, and they do their work specifically through Nevada Legal Services. Whereas here, we do a broader approach, and it’s more individually based as to what our lawyers are specifically interested in and what kind of work our lawyers want to do in the community.
Recently, we had our annual pro bono luncheon for the firm where we all share stories about the kind of work that we’ve been doing. And we had reports in from each of the offices about how the different offices actually handle pro bono. Then it helps us give us ways to be able to collaborate in the future amongst ourselves and with other colleagues from other offices.
LAW WEEK: And that might be a perfect example for the next question: How do you promote or provide recognition within the firm?
GOODLETTE: We do provide up to 50 hours of pro bono to be counted toward the annual billable hour requirements. And when we have larger cases, we will exceed that because we know that often it takes more than 50 hours, and we want to be able to credit that in appropriate cases.
We also encourage staff participation and do a lot of different types of programs with non-lawyers who work with us on community work.
In fact, I just had a legal assistant in my office asking for ways to get involved with immigrants down at the border.
That’s another piece that I think is important, because it’s a way to integrate everybody in our offices to come together to work toward the common good for our communities as extra recognition.
We also provide an annual pro bono award to someone who has shown exceptional dedication in the past year to a specific case or cause of community group and then we also recognize all of our lawyers who give over a certain number of hours. And then also we make it part of lawyer evaluation as well.
LAW WEEK: What do you think are the benefits to the firm from promoting these types of initiatives?
GOODLETTE: There’s this idea of being a good corporate citizen that we read a lot about and hear a lot about. I think it really comes down to is this dedication to our communities to collaborate with one another and work with other entities who are working to improve our cities or states, certain neighborhoods, the well-being of certain populations.
And we want to be a part of that because we’re here in Denver and we all live here and work here — and likewise in Colorado Springs — and we want to promote that as much as the next entity does.
But there are certain entities that are dedicated to working for those in need, and we want to support them in our efforts. I really see it as a collaborative effort of people who are working together in in the state of Colorado to come together to make sure that we’re helping everyone get the legal services that they deserve and that they need. We know the effects of providing legal services to poor people or the elderly or people with disabilities or veterans and how that can absolutely change someone’s life so directly, and we want to be a part of that and feel obliged to be a part of that.
LAW WEEK: That pro bono focus is something that’s kind of baked into being an attorney. Do you think as an organization there has been a shift in expectations for that corporate citizenship? The organizational level versus the individual level?
GOODLETTE: I don’t know that there’s been a shift. I’ve been at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie for almost 13 years and we’ve always been very community-oriented and dedicated to work on behalf of people in need. I have seen that not only on an individual front with lawyers but also as an entity on behalf of the firm for a long time. So I don’t necessarily see a shift there.
I would say the shift is more of listening to people individually as to what they’re interested in. That’s something that we are really focused on and wanting to hear from our lawyers and staff as to where their interests lie so that we can help support those as we work in the community.
LAW WEEK: Do you see a return to the organization in from supporting those individual attorneys? Does that also make happier or more effective or more experienced lawyers?
GOODLETTE: I firmly believe it creates great opportunity for experience. We have had associate-level attorneys here argue at the 10th Circuit through the pro bono panel through the federal court, and it’s a fabulous opportunity for building experience for lawyers, but it also promotes a whole life as a lawyer as opposed to just sitting in your office and doing your work for your paying clients.
I definitely think it helps with retention and that attorneys know that they are supported in what their interested in and what they want to do. And it’s not all just about representing our paying clients, but it’s also about representing our clients who are unable to pay.
LAW WEEK: Throughout your career, what have been your biggest pro bono projects?
GOODLETTE: I’ve been doing work recently in the past year with immigrant women and children who are detained down at the border, and that’s been quite incredible work providing direct representation to those women.
The largest case certainly for me was the Manuel Velez case where we represented Mr. Velas in his habeas appeal to state court to try to get him off of death row.
In fact, once we started investigating the case, and after a few years of researching the matter, we were able to discover that in fact, the injuries to the child who had been killed occurred at a time when our client was out of state and therefore we were able to win the habeas case and he now lives at home with his family after six years on death row plus three years in prison.
That was certainly what I would call a case of a lifetime to be able to have such a privilege to represent an innocent man who was on death row. In fact, he just texted me the other day just to say hello and let me know how grateful he was. So that’s certainly hands-down my big pro bono case of my life, at least so far.
I’m always amazed with every pro bono client that I see, and I have been incredibly moved by the work with these women and little kids down at the border of late. It’s quite moving work.
Part of being a great attorney is representing your clients’ interests but also caring about what’s going on in the world around you and how it is affecting the people who are most in need. To be thoughtful about that, and put those words into action, is really what pro bono, and then that commitment, is all about.