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U.S. Attorney John Walsh Encourages Pro Bono Experience in Shaping Law Students

Alli Gerkman Posted in Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers®, Featured

In his Voices from the Field interview, John Walsh, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, encourages legal education reformers to consider new strategies to help teach students more than just legal analysis and case reading, so that they have a better idea of what to expect when they walk into a courtroom as new attorneys.

Walsh describes the hiring process at the U.S. Attorney’s Office as competitive, with a “flood of applications” from a range of applicants. Most often, the Office hires attorneys with several years of experience, because law students immediately out of law school lack the practical experience and professionalism required for the high stakes job of representing the federal government. These skills include:

  • An understanding of the fact that zealous representation can be quite different for government work than the private sector, with an emphasis on the government role of “doing justice”; and
  • The need for a nuanced, contextual understanding of their advocacy skills and the ability to shift their role and argument technique based upon their audience.

Walsh suggests that pro bono work, hands-on clinic work, and even mock trial work in school will help students hone professionalism skills that they need to be successful. When hired by the Office, new attorneys are paired with a senior attorney in a mentorship program, which helps them to understand expected courtroom behaviors, professional interactions, and to maintain an overall commitment to “doing justice” as a government agent.

Finally, Walsh believes that engaging in pro bono work as law students can be fundamental to creating a well-rounded, mindful attorney. Such service gives students the ability to engage with the community, and perhaps with a sector of the community that they have not had an opportunity interact with before. Doing pro bono work helps students understand what it means to help clients, and the community, as lawyers, and to convey the importance of legal representation within society.

Hear more of John Walsh’s suggestions for reforming legal education in his Voices from the Field interview below.

John Walsh has served as United States Attorney for Colorado since August 2010, after nomination by President Barack Obama and unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate. From 2011 to 2013 he served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). In January 2012, he was named by the Attorney General to serve as one of five national co-chairs of the Attorney General’s Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (“RMBS”) Fraud Working Group. Walsh is also co-chair of the AGAC’s White Collar/Fraud committee.

Prior to becoming U.S. Attorney, Mr. Walsh was a partner at Holland & Hart, LLP, and subsequently at Hill & Robbins, P.C., where he was a member until 2010. His practice there focused on complex civil litigation and class actions in the areas of securities, antitrust and consumer protection, as well as internal investigations and white collar criminal cases.