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Oklahoma Lawyers Making Equal Justice for all a Reality

Utilizing ‘Lawyering’ in Volunteering

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

  • By: Ralph Schaeffer
  • Organization: Tulsa Business Journal

Williams Company always has been unique by encouraging employees to be involved in the community.
But that involvement didn't necessarily utilize the legal department staff's lawyering talents.

That changed after Craig Rainey, Williams assistant general counsel, visited the Legal Services of Oklahoma Tulsa office as part of the United Way tour.

Rainey went back to his office and recruited staff members to get involved in a different style of law practice other than corporate work.

He also went to the Hall, Estill Law Firm for additional help, swelling the volunteer ranks to a combination of about 40 attorneys or paralegals.

The effort has the support of Williams General Counsel Jim Bender and Hall Estill Managing Partner Mike Cook.

Without that stamp of approval, it would not be possible that outside work, he said.

Bender also took the first Legal Services case.

As a result, elderly people are receiving assistance that Legal Aid attorneys are unable to provide because of their workload.

Legal Aid has the responsibility for Elder Law since that program was phased out at the University of Tulsa College of Law. Had that program shift not occurred, people preparing wills and other documents would have been without any type of legal help.

'We have a talented group of attorneys dealing with various energy law, mergers and acquisitions, construction and contract and environmental issues and other company related business,' he said. 'But we don't get to do any one-on-one work with the public.'

The new group of volunteers didn't just go to work.

They received some training from Bob Farris about wills, trusts, estates and end-of-life issues. Judge Theresa Dreiling explained the District Court Guardian Ad Litem program. Judge Linda Morrisey provided training on probate matters.

There is quite a bit of excitement among the staff even though work is done during the evening and weekends, he said. Staff members shared experiences and learned from each other about various issues. Uniformly, everyone had a case that, coming away from it, found they were emotionally uplifted.

Another joy that attorneys and paralegals have is they are helping someone get access to the legal system that otherwise could not afford the service.

Clients have been so delighted and appreciative they ask about how they might be able to help, Rainey added.

The Guardian Ad Litem program helps make the difference in the life of a person in the legal system.

The legal representative is appointed by the court to investigate and report findings so a decision about the best interests of the person can be made.
This work feels like it is the right thing for lawyers to do, Rainey continued. It has been worth it and it is possible to see all cases through to the end.

Williams attorneys involved in the Legal Services program work in teams.

That makes it possible to be more flexible if a work situation takes a person away from the volunteer project.

Williams, as a company, also is benefiting from the volunteering.

The legal department always has been collegial, Rainey said. But these cases have led to people talking to each other more often to compare notes and learn from the other's experiences. This good group has been made better.

Hopefully, he continued, other corporate attorneys and law firms will volunteer their services to help make a difference in people's lives and join the program.

Calls for assistance initially must be made by contacting Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma's Tulsa Office at 584-3338. They are referred to Karen Langdon for processing and referral. Anyone seeking help through Legal Services cannot contact Williams or Hall Estill directly.

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