Supply and Demand: Underrepresented Participants in the Legal System

by Mo Weiland

When I took on my first volunteer case I was told it was going to be an “easy one –a simple divorce.”  The first thing I realized is that there is no such thing as an “easy one” – every case is complicated, emotionally charged, and challenging for those involved.  It started to get thorny when my client needed a restraining order against her then-husband.  She requested one from the court on an emergent basis, but was denied; she called to ask if I would help her at the hearing. Of course, I told her yes. It was, after all, supposed to be an “easy one.”

Before the hearing, my client’s husband went from pro se to represented, and I was faced with the stark reality that not all opposing counsel are as patient, calm, and measured as we hope.  I spent countless hours on the phone and in person attempting to negotiate every aspect of a permanent separation, all in the face of children and family members experiencing serious mental health issues.  Over the next months we were in front of the judge for hearings, oral arguments, and evidentiary presentations numerous times.  Ultimately, our permanent order hearing was set for a half-day trial and I was the first and only chair on my side of the podium.  Suddenly, this “easy” and “simple” divorce had turned into much more

The case was scary.  There was a lot on the line, and my client was looking to me for help. There was no senior partner I could hand the phone to when opposing counsel became aggressive. And no experienced co-counsel I could look to when the judge asked a hard question. It was just me and my client.

Amidst all of that – my stress, my fear, my desire to obtain the best result for my client and her children – I realized that I could provide my client with the help that she needed. Now that it’s over, I’ve realized that this “easy” divorce has been the most valuable experience I have had in my first year of practice.

Of course, I have learned a great deal about divorce law, restraining orders, and the law regarding how to best protect children in the face of family breakdowns.  But beyond that, I have learned that my job as a lawyer often demands that I conform to a different nomenclature used to describe our profession: counselor.  I am learning to manage clients, opposing parties, opposing counsel, and everyone’s expectations.  I am learning that what people want from a lawyer is often not legal advice at all, but a confidant and teammate to help them wade through a complex and unfamiliar problem.  Most importantly, I am learning that I have the tools to help guide people even when I do not immediately know all of the answers.

As a young attorney, one of the things I continue to hear is that I need to get “more experience.”  I feel like I have found the ideal place to get it.  There is a glut of young professionals who want experience and at the same time an overabundance of underrepresented participants in the legal system.   As new lawyers, we are faced with a tough legal market, employers who do not all want to invest in giving young attorneys the skills they need to grow and develop, and the firm understanding that law school did not really teach us all we need to know.  At the same time there is a huge population stumbling through the legal system looking for a partner, a counselor, and sometimes, just someone to tell them where to write their name on the caption block. I think these two dilemmas offer each other perfect solutions. I hope that, as young professionals, we can put our demand for experience to work for the abundant supply of people that need our help.

Mo Weiland is an associate with Fennemore Craig, P.C.  She joined the firm in 2012 after graduating from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and practices in Fennemore’s litigation group.  She can be reached at

M WeilandDuring law school Mo was active with the Student Bar Association, the Public Interest Law Group, and the Vis International Moot Court Team.  Mo is an alumnus of Montana State University, where her studies focused on skiing, rafting and hiking (she also earned degrees in philosophy and political science).  In her free time Mo enjoys the Colorado mountains, spending time with her boyfriend, Jon, and her dog, Atticus, leisure reading, and bad TV.

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