Monthly Archives

April 2014

Inspired Justice

How to Think Like a Lawyer, by Michael Lawyer ’09

Michael Lawyer ’09 is a Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Michael Lawyer ’09

I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just wanted to help people.

Before I went to law school I had spent a career working in faith-based nonprofits, initially working with children suffering from mental illness and addiction, and later working on behalf of new immigrants trying to adjust to life in the United States. In both cases, my clients faced real challenges just making it through the day – any interaction with the government was a profound source of stress and anxiety capable of derailing months of progress.

While I was doing this work I discovered that many of the people we counted on to help our clients – our best board members, the foundation staff who supported us, the volunteers we called on for our hardest problems – were legally trained. Their training had taught them to see the systems that shaped our clients lives, and the best of them could ensure those systems treated our clients with the humanity and respect they desperately needed. When I asked these mentors how I could increase my ability to help our clients, they advised me to go to law school. Though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer, I did want to think like my mentors did. When I discovered St. Thomas Law, I followed my mentors’ advice.

Upon graduation, I was proud to join the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a Presidential Management Fellow. Now that I too have been trained to see the systems that run our society, there is nowhere I’d rather be. HUD provides over $40 billion every year to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. Every day we put people in homes and provide paths out of poverty. Our mission is noble, and my colleagues and I are committed to achieving it. However, government systems can still be a profound source of stress and anxiety capable of derailing progress, especially for those who work with them every day.

In my five years with HUD I have done little legal work, but I use the things I learned at St. Thomas every day. I have found a home in our Human Resources Department, where it’s my job to help tame our systems, reduce the stress and anxiety they create, and help our 8,000 employees stay focused on our mission. I research, I counsel, I draft, I argue, but most of all I wrestle with the moral and human impacts of the decisions we make and the systems we’ve inherited. When I can, I improve those impacts. When I can’t, I find those who have been affected and make sure their story is heard. It’s not legal work, but it is helping, and I’m glad to have the chance to do it.

Michael Lawyer ’09 is a Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Inspired Justice

Living the Mission as a Business Attorney, by Pat Zomer ’11

The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.

Pat Zomer ’11 practices in the areas of utility regulation, commercial lending, and business law at Moss & Barnett, a Professional Association.

Pat Zomer ’11

These are probably not the first words that come to mind when you think about utility rate cases and commercial lending transactions. Actually, those two topics probably make you think of several, different words that are not suitable for publication on a website run by a Catholic law school focused on morality and social justice. So how does a business attorney live the mission?

First, it is important to acknowledge the mission means many things to many people. Take some time browsing this blog and you will see several wonderful people doing amazing things – each of them living the mission in their own way. Each member of the St. Thomas community is encouraged to conduct their own “search for truth,” including those of us in the commercial world.

The ultimate goal for any business attorney should be to become a trusted advisor. For me, integrating faith and reason while trying to practice (and live) morally are fundamental steps in that process. As Professor Hamilton writes, “A trusted advisor earns trust through excellent technical skills combined with both sufficient self-knowledge to be authentic and to subordinate the lawyer’s own ego to focus on care for the client, and empathy, including strong listening skills.” This means a good business attorney needs to have his or her house in order before clients are willing to make the leap of entrusting you with their commercial dealings (and dollars).

In my time at St. Thomas, I was lucky enough to observe several members of the St. Thomas community modeling the skills associated with being a trusted advisor. My professional career is similarly blessed with colleagues willing to share both technical knowledge and practical skills to assist my ongoing development. These relationships have been and will continue to be vital in my growth as an attorney and as a person. I am also blessed with a wife that makes me a better person (on a daily basis) and a family that is always there for me. All of these areas of support help me to grow into being an authentic person and a technically skilled attorney.

Combining technical skill and ethical practice lie at the heart of the trusted advisor relationship and the St. Thomas mission. So, yes, dear reader, it is possible to live the mission as a business attorney.

Pat Zomer ’11 practices in the areas of utility regulation, commercial lending, and business law at Moss & Barnett, a Professional Association.

Inspired Justice

A volunteer’s reflection on a journey toward pro bono publico, by Teddy Michel ’07

Teddy Michel '07

Teddy Michel ’07 | photo courtesy The Catholic Light

On Thursday, March 20, 2014, I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at a CLE sponsored by the Diocese of Scranton’s St. Thomas More Society of the Legal Profession. The one-hour ethics CLE manifested my ability to engage in self-deprecating humor regarding my Wheel of Fortune bomb out and was an opportunity to share stories pertaining to my past experiences as a legal aid attorney and member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

As I shared during the CLE, Teddy’s Ethics 101 is all about one word: Accompany. Accompany is defined as “to go with another person.” I believe amazing things can happen when we decide to intentionally journey with another individual – when we accompany another. And that, the journey with another, is what the CLE was all about.

And so I began recalling a serious of influential stories in my life beginning with my senior year in college where my management professor, Dr. Ernie Owens, challenged us to think critically about what we wanted to do in life. In short, Dr. Owens (and the rest of the UST undergrad campus) created an environment conducive to allowing me to discover a glimpse of who I was and what I was about. And after I saw that little picture, I knew the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (“JVC”) was for me.

Fast-forward eight months and I find myself up in Anchorage, Alaska, working at the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (“Four As”) as a Jesuit Volunteer. Four As is an HIV/AIDS social service organization, which provides comprehensive case management services to individuals living with HIV. In my capacity as a volunteer, I became quite close with a number of clients and staff. Several months into my volunteer year, one of our clients became increasingly sick and passed away. Prior to his passing, a staff member began to care for his 2-year-old son. Now that the client was gone, the little 2-year-old’s future was uncertain. The staff member, however, was interested in adopting the boy but wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

In walks Attorney Tom Janidlo, former Marine, and he picked up the adoption case pro bono. While I didn’t attend the court hearing that finalized the adoption, I remember we had a party at our office after the hearing. We had balloons, streamers, confetti, and lots and lots of food. I’ll never forget the moment when everyone returned from court. Our staff member was carrying her newest 2-year-old son in her arms and I remember thinking to myself, I know I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer or best tool in the box, but I know I’m a hard worker and would be able to bust my backside through law school to put myself in a position to be Tom Janidlo someday.

And so the seed was planted. After another year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Nashville, Tenn., at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program, my wife Cindy and I drove back to Minnesota for graduate school – law school for me and a doctorate in physical therapy for Cindy.

Fortunately, I was running late for my first law school class: Civil Procedure with Professor Sisk. As many of you know, late comers on the first day of class have relatively limited seating options. Ah but the Lord is good because an available seat in second row off to the far right was next to three of our law school’s best, most intelligent law students.

And while I may be a hard worker, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good because those three students plotted, carved, paved and smoothed the road to Teddy’s J.D., which led to a wonderful 4 1/2-year career as a legal aid attorney out here in Scranton, Pennsylvania!

Teddy Michel ’07 is judicial law clerk to the Hon. James M. Munley, United States Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.