A volunteer’s reflection on a journey toward pro bono publico

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.