SHERIDAN — Sheridan prides itself on helping those in need, and attorneys bear no exception. Attorneys create a strong presence of pro bono consulting, or providing attorney services without charge, in Sheridan.
By volunteering pro bono services, attorneys provide efficiency, balance and equal access to the justice system. Davis & Cannon attorney Holly Tysse participates in pro bono work and said by providing the free services, it in turn helps clerks at the circuit and district court levels.
In Sheridan, attorneys provide free legal information, not advice, via the Volunteer Reference Attorney Program through Equal Justice Wyoming. Every first and third Thursday of the month from 2-4 p.m., attorneys sign up to provide the service to walk-in clients.
Christopher Sherwood, an associate attorney for Yonkee and Toner in Sheridan, coordinates the program.
While colleagues associate Sherwood’s name with the organization of events, he said the events couldn’t be done without the community of lawyers coming together and doing something about it.
“The interest and support in the program from those participating has been overwhelming,” Sherwood said. “It makes it easy to do the coordination that I do.”
Attorneys also conduct at least one pro bono night per year through Equal Justice Wyoming to provide official legal advice and possibly pick up pro bono cases. Equal Justice Wyoming signs up clients and completes all administrative work to reserve the time spent with attorneys for actual advice.
Ben Reiter, president of Sheridan’s branch of the Wyoming State Bar and attorney with Davis & Cannon, found the task of gathering volunteers easy, as attorneys remain open to help with pro bono work.
Sherwood said he finds joy in helping others, but the state also strongly suggests attorneys contribute a suggested 50 hours of pro bono services per year. The American Bar Association’s Model Rule 6.1 reads, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.”
Equal Justice Wyoming helps facilitate opportunities for attorneys statewide to engage in pro bono work through the events and a calling list. Sherwood opts out of the calling list because he picks up most of his pro bono work by association with other cases.
“Some of my pro bono cases have come out from helping a client on a court-appointed matter, but then they have an ancillary matter as well at no charge,” Sherwood said.
Sherwood sees the services as keeping the legal system equal.
“If legal services were only available to people who could pay for them, it would inherently be skewed and out of balance rather than the scales of justice being in balance,” Sherwood said.
Reiter and Tysse realize that seemingly simple law advice for them might take others hours to figure out.
Selfishly, Tysse said, the services provided also give young lawyers, like Tysse and Reiter, an opportunity to learn law issues outside of their regular wheelhouse.
“Most firms recognize that it serves a learning purpose for younger attorneys that the firm itself can’t necessarily provide,” Tysse said.
Reiter said pro bono work isn’t just for low-income citizens and sees a large disparity in services for individuals or families at at moderate income level.
“Selfishly you get experience, but also there is that void,” Tysse said. “People can’t afford a $200 an hour attorney fee, and if we can help a really simple problem…why not do it? It’s not that much of a burden on you.”
Access to pro bono services remain more scarce in the northern part of the state, as southern Wyoming firms utilize the university clinics and opportunities in the state capital. Regardless, Sheridan attorneys will continue to lessen the gap for those unable to afford necessary legal services.