Experience & Advice

Volunteer Attorneys

Experience & Advice

  • Experience & Advice

May 7, 2014

What is it like to win relief for a death-sentenced client?

Amy Van Gelder
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP


Our volunteer attorneys have won life-saving victories for more than 55 death row prisoners resulting in sentences of less than death. In this segment, Amy Van Gelder, counsel at Skadden Arps, talks about what it is like to win relief for your client and the importance of providing hope to a client who has never before had a true advocate. (8:15)

April 28, 2014

How can volunteering help me become a better lawyer?

Robert L. Rothman
Arnall Golden Gregory LLP


Volunteering to represent a death row prisoner is a great way to learn a new substantive area of the law, but it is also a fantastic way to gain skills and experience that will benefit you in your regular civil practice. In this segment, Bob Rothman, partner at Arnall Golden Gregory, explains how litigating a post-conviction death penalty case will help you become a better civil lawyer as you engage in tasks such as developing creative legal arguments, conducting fact investigations, interviewing witnesses, taking depositions, arguing motions, and much more. (8:57)

September 13, 2013

How will my colleagues, clients, and family react to my work on a death penalty case?

Lawrence J. Fox
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Yale Law School


The death penalty itself can be a divisive issue, but the importance of good representation in our criminal justice system is an idea everyone can support. In this segment, Larry Fox, partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath and professor at Yale Law School, talks about the reactions of his family, colleagues, and business clients to his many years of work as a volunteer death penalty attorney. He shares why even those individuals who may look less favorably upon the work will proudly boast about the volunteer death penalty representation performed by their law firms. (10:07)

August 13, 2013

Can I Represent Someone On Death Row If I Have No Criminal or Death Penalty Experience?

William F. Abrams
King & Spalding LLP


The large majority of our volunteer attorneys have no background in criminal law or death penalty representation when they take their first capital cases. Bill Abrams, Partner at King & Spalding, explains how civil litigators can successfully handle death penalty cases and discusses some of the people and resources available to guide them through the process. (3:53)

April 11, 2013

What Recognition is Available for Volunteer Lawyers and Law Firms?

Michael Siem
Baker Botts LLP


The Death Penalty Representation Project understands the importance of good publicity, and we always make recognizing the outstanding contributions of our volunteers a top priority. Michael Siem, formerly of Fish & Richardson and now Special Counsel at Baker Botts, was part of the volunteer attorney team that received the Project's 2012 Exceptional Service Award. In this segment he talks about the types of recognition that are available for volunteer law firms and the positive impact it has on management perception, client relationships, and career development. (7:50)

April 4, 2013

What Do You Do When The Worst Happens? How I Dealt With My Client's Execution

Joanne M. Hepburn
K&L Gates

Many new volunteer attorneys fear taking a death penalty case because of the possibility that their client will be executed. Joanne M. Hepburn, associate at K&L Gates, represented a death row client who she was ultimately unable to save. In this clip, she tells the story of her client's execution and why the possibility of this outcome should not deter anyone from taking a case. (6:08)

March 13, 2013

How My Expectations About Representing a Death Row Prisoner Compared With Reality

Steven M. Schneebaum
Fox Rothschild LLP

Steven Schneebaum, partner at Fox Rothschild LLP, began working as a volunteer death penalty attorney more than 20 years ago. In this segment, Steven talks about what he expected when he started this work, and how those expectations have compared with the reality of representing someone on death row. (11:25)

March 11, 2013

The Relationship With My Client, (Former) Death Row Prisoner Damon Thibodeaux

Steven Z. Kaplan
Fredrikson & Byron

Steve Kaplan, former partner at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis, recently achieved a remarkable victory when his client, Damon Thibodeaux, was exonerated and released from death row. Steve spent many years working on Damon's case, and over time Steve and Damon developed a close personal friendship in addition to their professional relationship. In this clip, Steve describes his experience with Damon's case and the impact it has had on his life. (8:55)

January 2, 2013

The Stages of a Death Penalty Case

Mark S. Olson
Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP

Death penalty cases have their own unique processes and procedures that can be intimidating to volunteer attorneys new to this work. In this segment, Mark Olson, partner at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP, provides an introduction to the basic stages of a death penalty case at the types of work volunteer attorneys can expect to perform along the way. (7:14)

December 4, 2012

The Challenges of Capital Cases in Texas and Florida

Jeffrey A. Koppy
Jenner & Block LLP

One of the first questions a new volunteer attorney can expect to hear from our staff is, "Where are you interested in working?" We ask this because many factors such as timing and available resources vary greatly from state to state, and our goal is to find cases that match the interests and needs of our volunteers. Jeff Koppy, volunteer attorney and partner at Jenner & Block LLP, has worked in two jurisdictions where there is often a need for volunteer assistance: Florida and Texas. In this segment, he provides an introduction to what it is like to be a volunteer attorney in those jurisdictions and the challenges he faced in his own cases. (12:07)

November 1, 2012

How I Became a Volunteer Lawyer

John H. Mathias, Jr.
Jenner & Block LLP

Our volunteer attorneys become involved in pro bono death penalty cases for a variety of reasons, such as interest in providing a needed public service or desire to gain new experiences for professional development. John Mathias, partner at Jenner & Block LLP, has been a volunteer death penalty attorney for nearly 30 years. In this segment, he discusses how he first became involved in death penalty work and why he remains committed to being a volunteer attorney today. (9:21)

  • Essays

* The views expressed by the authors and speakers are their own and may not reflect the position of the American Bar Association and the Death Penalty Representation Project. For more information about ABA policy related to the death penalty, please visit the Death Penalty Policy page or contact the Project.