Our October Volunteer of the Month is John Sherman! John is a dedicated attorney at Mendel Colbert & Associates, Inc. where he represents clients in family law matters as well as in appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court. As a pro bono volunteer at ALSC, John uses his expertise to provide top-notch legal help in family law matters to our client community. Through this work, John strives to do all he can to make a difference and we are so thankful to have him as a volunteer! Read on for our full interview with John below:
Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?
As a private family law attorney, I see a staggering unmet need for free legal services to people who cannot afford their own attorney. The legal system is not designed for people to represent themselves. Attempting to navigate it without an understanding of the law or the practical ways family law attorneys solve problems has lasting effects on the lives of people involved in divorce and custody cases, as well as their children. People agree to settlements that are not in anyone’s best interest because they lack the ability to fight for something different, or lack an understanding of what their options really are. Judges do not get the information they need to make good decisions because people do not know how to present it. ALSC provides excellent service to low-income clients, but absent an enormous increase in their budget and size, they can only do so much to address the problem. By volunteering for them I hope to support them in the work they do, and do my part to increase the number of clients they can reach.
What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?
One of the most satisfying aspects of representing clients through ALSC has been being able to help clients get what they were awarded by the court but which their former spouse or partner refuses to give them. It frustrates me when I see people avoid their responsibilities because they know they can bully around someone who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Some of the cases that stand out to me are ones where my client was owed an amount of money that would make a world of difference in their own life, but which is too little to be worth paying an attorney to help collect. Sometimes all it takes is showing the bully that my client is not going to walk away from what is due to them to get them to follow an order. Even if the dollar amounts seem small compared to cases the court sees every day, it can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and also in giving people confidence that the legal system serves them and does what it is supposed to.
How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?
Each case I work is different, and provides me with tools to help me in my future practice. One of the first cases I took from ALSC involved working for a woman with physical disabilities and near-constant pain. I learned a lot about public benefit law that I otherwise would never encounter; I also learned a lot about the realities of living with disabilities and lacking the means to support oneself. That was an experience I would not have encountered in my normal practice and which has influenced how I see and continue to evaluate cases. Every case I have received from ALSC has given me the opportunity to focus on and understand issues I would not directly address in my day-to-day practice, but which influence how I approach cases and clients in the future.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
As an Iowa transplant, I have made Alaska my home for almost seven years now. I currently serve as co-chair of the Alaska Bar Association Family Law Section. My wife and I welcomed our daughter Sybil into the world this year; when we are not working together at Mendel Colbert & Associates we are exposing our daughter to all the outdoor beauty Alaska has to offer.