Young Lawyers Division Receives ABA and ABE Awards

Utah State Bar Young Lawyers Division Receives ABA and ABE Awards

Help RISE pro bono project garners two public service awards.

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            At its annual meeting, the American Bar Association recognized the Utah State Bar Young Lawyers Division for its Help RISE project with a First Place Award of Achievement for Outstanding Activities & Accomplishments in the Service to the Public category.  The project also received an Outstanding Public Service Project Award from the American Bar Endowment—an award given to only one service project a year.

            Help RISE is a new pro bono program (donated legal services) to assist participants in the United States District Court for the District of Utah’s drug and mental health court reentry program:  Reentry Independence through Sustainable Efforts (RISE).  The RISE program assists Federal defendants on supervised release/probation who struggle with drug addiction or mental health issues.  The program reintegrates them into the community using a collaborative rather than a punitive approach.

RISE is one of the first federal re-entry courts in the nation.  In both the mental health court and the drug court, participation is limited and participants are carefully screened.  The participants are required to meet certain expectations, such as attending treatment programs and submitting to weekly drug tests.  The participants appear at weekly meetings before the judge assigned to their case to report on their progress.  If the participant fails to meet his or her weekly requirements, they may be subject to immediate, temporary incarceration or other punishments.  When participants successfully complete the RISE program, they receive a probation reduction of up to one year.

Because of the tenuous circumstances of many of the RISE participants, even the smallest of setbacks in their personal lives can derail their reentry progress.  The Help RISE program helps participants succeed in their reentry efforts and avoid recidivism by providing free legal advice in the areas of law in three crucial areas:  family law, bankruptcy, and landlord/tenant law.

The Help RISE program utilizes unemployed and underemployed young lawyers as its pro bono volunteers, with a secondary goal of assisting young lawyers who do not yet have established practices gain valuable training and experience in these three areas of law.  In order to assist these young lawyers, the YLD organized an all-day continuing legal training program focusing on these three areas of law.

In addition, each young lawyer who takes on a pro bono case is assigned to a senior mentor attorney who practices in the area of law relevant to their assigned case and who is available to help answer procedural or substantive questions.  Finally, all pro bono attorneys for the program are covered by the Utah State Bar’s malpractice insurance policy and so do not have to have a policy of their own in order to volunteer for the program.

Help RISE was first conceived as a joint effort by Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells and the Utah Federal Bar Association (FBA), when Judge Wells raised her concerns about the civil legal needs of the RISE participants to Jenifer Tomchak, the Utah FBA’s Community Service Chair at the time.  Judge Wells and Ms. Tomchak solidified and refined the program after gathering input and meeting with various members of the U.S. Attorneys Office, the Federal Defenders Office, and Legal Aide.  They then recruited Kelly Latimer and Christina Micken, co-chairs of the YLD Recession Response Committee, to bring the Help RISE concept to fruition.

Latimer, who is an Attorney-Advisor for the United States Department of the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals, said “The pro bono assistance that the RISE participants receive really makes a difference in their lives and positively influences their recovery and reentry process. It is rewarding to be part of this process. You walk away feeling like you have helped change someone’s life for the better.”

Help RISE has been operating since October 2012.  Since that time, 37 young lawyers and 18 senior attorneys have been recruited as volunteers.  To date, 16 pro bono case placements have been made.  If you have any questions about the program or are interested in volunteering, please call or email Kelly Latimer, 801-323-3966, kellyjlatimer@gmail.com.

With approximately 2,000 members, the Young Lawyers Division prides itself as being one of the most active organizations within the Bar, and includes members less than 36 years of age, as well as members who have been admitted to their first state bar for less than five years.

The Utah State Bar was established in 1931 and, under the authority of the Utah Supreme Court, regulates the practice of law.  The lawyers of the Utah State Bar are working to create a justice system that is understood, valued, respected, and accessible to all.  See more at www.utahbar.org.

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