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John Church | Retired Lewiston Attorney Inspires

John A Church

Law Students’ Philanthropy

Retired Lewiston Attorney John A. Church said when he was in law school at the University of Idaho back in the mid-1960s, attorneys didn’t talk about doing pro bono work.

“It was a secret,” he said. But now, thanks to Church’s support, pro bono work at his alma mater is a graduation requirement.

Church got Idaho students fired about the experiential learning opportunity during a campus lecture five years ago. Don Burnett, dean of Idaho’s College of Law, fully supported adoption of mandatory pro bono work at Idaho.

Church stepped up with a $45,000 donation to launch and pay for the first year of the College of Law’s Pro Bono Program, established in 2006.

But he didn’t stop there. Church -- who during a 21-year career worked on about 100 cases on a pro bono basis -- recently pledged another $55,000 to underwrite an additional year’s worth of operating expenses for the pro bono program.

“I believe every lawyer should do some pro bono work, he said. So many Americans with legitimate cases would benefit from legal representation but can’t afford attorneys’ fees,” said Church, 2006 recipient of the Idaho State Bar’s  Denise O’ Donnell Day Pro Bono Award.

For attorneys just starting out, pro bono work provides highly effective and practical legal know-how, he said.

Idaho is the only law school in the Northwest or Intermountain West, and one of only three in the western United States requiring students to do pre-approved, law-related work on a pro bono basis, under the supervision of a lawyer or judge, in order to graduate.

“The purpose of the pro bono requirement is to instill in students a commitment to their responsibility as lawyers to give back to the community and promote justice by assisting the underserved and underrepresented” said Trapper Stewart, director of the program.

Students are given the opportunity to fulfill their mandatory pro bono requirements in a wide range of legal settings, including select service organizations, government agencies, private firms representing clients through a pro bono agreement, nonprofits and legislative offices. 

Stewart said the Class of 2011 logged a total 11,795 hours of pro bono work. A breakdown shows that students in the cohort performed more than twice the 40-hour pro bono requirement, averaging more than 100 hours each.

“Now that’s commitment to me,” Church said.

Dean Burnett said the College is grateful for Church’s support. He also praised the many, generous volunteer attorneys who take students under their wings.

Church said it’s that sort of collaboration that makes the University such a great place to earn a law degree.

Make a gift to the Law Public Service Program Initiative (Pro Bono).

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