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Devon, McAfee & Taft join Program Providing Legal Aid

Friday, August 14, 2009

by Marie Price
The Journal Record August 14, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorneys with Devon Energy and the McAfee & Taft law firm are teaming up in a program with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma to provide pro bono legal help to needy Oklahomans.

Devon attorney Michael Palmer said the idea started with a conversation between the general counsels of the Williams Cos. and Devon.

The Williams Cos. had undertaken a similar project with the Hall Estill law firm in Tulsa.

Palmer visited with Karen Langdon, statewide pro bono coordinator in Legal Aid’s Tulsa office, who explained the Tulsa program.

He said Devon attorneys are excited about participating. Palmer, Devon associate general counsel, said that in addition to helping people, the project will permit Devon lawyers to stretch their legal wings.

“A lot of the people started out in this type of environment, in a corporation, right out of law school and were never in a general practice or had a firm where they had an opportunity to do some of these other things,” Palmer said. “I’m sure that, and the desire to help segments of society that aren’t able to get legal representation, is another driving factor in people deciding they want to sign up for this.”

Jim Webb, with McAfee & Taft, said about a dozen lawyers each from Devon and McAfee & Taft have committed to the program thus far.

Although Devon and the law firm will be equal partners in the program, Webb said they may be able to split some functions.

“Devon folks generally don’t like to go to the courthouse,” he said. “Anything that involves going to the courthouse, for example victim protective orders, something like that, they may agree that they’ll have a lawyer at Devon that’s going to do the work-up and everything else, but when it comes time to actually show up at the courthouse, they’ll want one of us to be involved.”

Webb said Legal Aid has an astounding caseload.

“What we want them to be able to do is have quicker turnaround, especially on some garden-variety stuff that otherwise they’d be having to struggle to find out, ‘OK, what lawyer can take this will for this elderly person?’” he said.

Webb said the program will allow Legal Aid to assign that need to an attorney in the Devon/McAfee program, knowing the required legal expertise will be available to draft a will “at the drop of a hat.”

“It’s just going to be a work in progress as we go at it, but everybody’s excited about it and committed to the process,” he said.

Webb said the law firm will be able to assist Legal Aid with training.

“It seems like, as with any area of law, with pro bono work, it changes with the times,” he said. “So there may be things that come up in the next six months to a year that we don’t even know exist right now.”

Webb said McAfee & Taft has served as Devon’s outside law firm for many years.

“We’ve got a long track record of working together,” he said.

Cindy Goble, statewide pro bono coordinator for Legal Aid Services in Oklahoma City, said the project is about providing equal access to justice.

“This program hopefully will continue to grow and be able to serve more people in poverty who would not have had access to the courts,” she said.

Langdon said the Tulsa program gives the corporate lawyers the opportunity to do something besides “boring company work” while helping people with basic legal problems.

“In Tulsa, we trained them to do documents relating to end of life, wills, durable powers of attorney, advanced medical directives, those kinds of things,” she said “They could go out at night to people’s houses or to nursing homes and do it. They absolutely loved it.”

Langdon said that normally during an entire year she may sign up 30 new outside attorneys to provide services.

“In one fell swoop, I got 40 new lawyers,” she said of the Tulsa experience.

She said Williams attorneys recruited lawyers from Hall Estill.

“All of them got such a reward from seeing a client’s face, from helping,” Langdon said. “It only took a couple of hours. It was after hours, so it didn’t interfere with their daily work. Legal Aid was able to help that many more clients that we would have had to turn away.”

Langdon said the Williams Cos.-Hall Estill pro bono partnership won a national award last year.

“It’s just been so good, it’s unbelievable,” she said.

Langdon said Legal Aid hopes other corporate groups will become interested in forming such partnerships to help seniors and others with their legal-service needs.

Legal Aid has few lawyers actually on staff, she said, but has hundreds of people needing help.

“Legal Aid is drowning in people, because of the economy,” she said of its growing client base. “If we can’t get volunteers, we’re just turning away more people. It’s just that simple.”


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