Pro Bono Award recipients committed to legal aid work

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By Barry Malone
Legal News

Every year, the Family Law Assistance Program (FLAP) and the Legal Aid and Defender Association (LAD) each select an attorney to recognize for their pro bono work.
Through the Oakland County Bar Association (OCBA), the attorneys are then presented with the Pro Bono Award at the OCBA’s Annual Meeting each June. This year, FLAP chose Aaron Dorn and LAD selected Eric Polan.

Dorn, a solo practitioner, gave a significant amount of his time to FLAP. Throughout the year, FLAP holds bi-weekly intake clinics where students and volunteer attorneys provide assistance to unrepresented parties. The assistance may be legal advice, help with filling out forms, or procedural advice.

According to Catherine McGee, pro bono coordinator at FLAP, Dorn volunteered at 17 of the intake clinics providing consultation and assistance to more than 50 FLAP clients. Further, he donated 88 hours of his time to direct representation of clients.

“My favorite thing about pro bono service is participating with the intake clinics,” said Dorn. “The people come in so desperate and not knowing the system. Even within a 30-minute interview, you can give them a shot. You see it in their faces that they’re thankful. They didn’t have any other option than you.”

Dorn credits his time in the Boy Scouts of America for playing a role in forming his commitment to service.

“There are a couple people as I was growing up that made a difference in my life by volunteering their time in scouting when I was a youth,” said Dorn. “When I earned my Eagle Scout rank in 2003, my scoutmaster told me ‘now it’s your turn.’ He meant that it was now my turn to give back to my community.”

Dustin Foster, director of FLAP, said Dorn “is truly a Boy Scout. He just wants to help others. Without a doubt, his goal is to leave the client in a better place than when they came in. He takes the time to listen to their needs and responds to them.”

Polan, also a solo practitioner, donated at least a full day each week to LAD. He began volunteering with LAD in 2012, but really ramped up his commitment in June 2014.
“I started going in every Wednesday and some Thursdays. I’d be the private attorney that would be there to help,” said Polan. “They’d schedule appointments for me and I’d be there to meet with clients.”

Describing pro bono service as important to his mental health wellness, Polan said, “I think it helps keep my sanity, helps keep balance. It makes you appreciate when people come in that there are people with much worse problems. If you do enough of it, it will fill that void that therapy might otherwise have to.”

Polan helped clients, among other things, expunge criminal their criminal records. According to Polan, clearing up someone’s criminal record can help them to find employment, get subsidized housing, or free them up from reporting for probation so they can use that time more productively.

“I think the best thing is that you can change the path of some people and give them hope,” said Polan. “When you change the pathway, you give them the opportunity for a better life. The pro bono work has given me the ability to offer someone an opportunity for a better life.”

In particular, Polan recalled a case where he extended a helping hand to a Vietnam vet.

“He was a Silver Star recipient . . . and he had a disability pension from the military. He’d been divorced for 30 years. His wife wanted more of his retirement. Disability is non-discernible income, but someone still has to go to Circuit Court to talk about that. To have a person who did over 100 parachutes into Vietnam say to you ‘thank you.’ That kind of stuff makes you feel good.”

Polan’s time helping indigent parties has shown him how great the need is for pro bono service.

“It’s important because more people need legal help than legal help is available,” said Polan. “People need help and at the bottom level there’s people that can’t afford to hire a lawyer. Some kind of representation that says, ‘Hey, I’m going to be here with you.’”

Working closely with Polan, LAD’s managing attorney for private attorney involvement, Lynda Krupp, wrote that Polan is “an exceptional attorney who has graciously used his abilities to assist the clients of the [LAD]. He has been doing pro bono work for several years, donating almost 500 hours of pro bono service. His efforts have helped many of our clients clear their criminal record and get employment or subsidized housing. He helped almost 200 Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne residents during that time.”

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