John Rogers always admired the work being completed by the Nebraska State Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Most recently, Rogers served as the in-house counsel for Credit Management Services out of Grand Island, where he encountered many people who would have benefited from having a skilled attorney in their corner.
“I always really appreciated and admired the Volunteer Lawyers Project, especially with the work I did in debtor/creditor work, as you can imagine, since I’m suing people that own money, a lot of them are pro se – they are representing themselves,” said Rogers, who before moving to Omaha in the early 1990s worked with his father, Charles, at his Columbus practice for three years.
“And even though they may have a defense, and you can kind of see – intrinsically – they have a reason why they don’t owe this debt, they can’t put it forward because they don’t have a lawyer.”
About a week ago, Rogers took over as program attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). The role will consist of Rogers being in a position to place clients in financial constraints in contact with Pro Bono services. Even fulfilling his duties in his previous role, Rogers noted how he was a major proponent of the work being completed by the VLP.
“Even though these people were opposed to me (in court), I still wanted them to have a defense there, for justice,” he said. “So when this opening came up at the Volunteer Lawyers Project, I decided to leave my practice and join the VLP.”
Established in 1982, the Volunteer Lawyers Project is the oldest and largest volunteer legal services organization in Nebraska, according to information provided by the Nebraska State Bar Association. The mission of the VLP is to improve access to justice for low-income Nebraskans through quality free services.
Generally, those who qualify for services must be state residents at least 18 years of age, have less than $10,000 in assets, have a total household income less than 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and cannot be in jail or prison.
After spending his youth in Columbus, Rogers attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for his undergraduate and subsequently got his law degree from Creighton University. After that, it was back to his childhood home to work with Charles, who runs a local independent full-time practice at the age of 81.
“I came back here to work with my dad in Columbus in 1993 and worked for him for about three years, but then I decided that I wanted to move back to Omaha,” he said.
Charles, who said it was a “great experience for him and me” when they shared an office in town, noted how his son’s new State Bar position is tailor-made for his skill set.
“It really is the perfect job for him,” said Charles Rogers, owner of Charles H. Rogers at Law. “He is that kind of person that is really gregarious – he’s just a people person. And this is what this job is going to be, just dealing with people.”
On Tuesday over the lunch hour, Charles had the opportunity to visit Dusters Restaurant to hear his son and other State Bar representatives give a presentation about some of the work the association is completing around the state.
It was informational, and the location certainly didn’t hurt.
“We all got to learn a few things and get some good food,” Charles said, with a laugh.
Although he is still getting both feet wet in his new profession, Rogers said that he is excited for what's to come and looking forward to making a positive impact.
“You can see how it is so important for people to have representation,” Rogers said. “Just like if you are on the criminal side – being put in jail or something, you want to have some competent attorney who knows the system and who is able to accurately and effectively argue your case.
“And with civil issues, some of those issues are just as important. You could lose a lot of money, you could lose custody of your children, I mean, all of these things are really important and you shouldn’t be limited just because you can’t afford an attorney. And as lawyers – and as a Bar Association – we should do our best to provide an attorney for you.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org