Brett Rolwes assists public through volunteer lawyer resources
Brett Rolwes has always had a strong drive to help residents, so it’s no surprise he has found a calling as The Missouri Bar’s legal and community services coordinator.
As the legal and community services coordinator, Rolwes monitors Missouri’s free legal answers virtual clinic, maintains the state bar’s online public resources, and guides the Young Lawyers’ Section Council when developing and initiating projects, just to name a few of his responsibilities.
“I’ve always been drawn to those jobs that the purpose is to help people who are struggling to help themselves,” he said. “When I see someone struggling or a problem that hasn’t been fixed or solved, I start thinking about it and I jump in.”
Rolwes routinely witnesses Missouri lawyers step up to help Missouri residents through Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org, an online clinic that allows low-income Missourians to ask up to three non-criminal legal questions each year. Pro bono volunteer lawyers licensed in Missouri then provide written answers through the online portal. Since 2017, The Missouri Bar has worked with the American Bar Association to administer Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org, and Rolwes oversees the administration of the program by recruiting volunteers and reviewing questions.
Since its launch four-and-a-half years ago, residents have posted more than 8,000 questions to Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org, Rolwes said, and volunteer lawyers have answered more than 7,000 of those questions.
“I can’t count the number of times where people have posted questions that they had no idea the extent of their legal issue – they didn’t even know where to begin – and the volunteers would break it down into easier-to-understand explanations,” he said.
About 200 lawyers have registered to volunteer through the site, but Rolwes said The Missouri Bar continuously seeks volunteers. Lawyers interested in offering pro bono services to Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org can sign up by visiting the website.
The Missouri Bar’s Young Lawyers’ Section is another large component of Rolwes’ job. Missouri lawyers who are 36 years old or younger, or who have been practicing for five years or less, are automatically members of the section, at no additional cost. YLS strives to enhance the professional growth and public service of new and recently admitted Missouri lawyers by sponsoring various public service projects, continuing legal education programs, and social networking events.
YLS offers a “layer of opportunities Missouri lawyers might not get from simply serving in their law practices,” Rolwes said.
The section also has its own representative body, the 35-member YLS Council that serves 14 districts across the state. The Missouri Bar encourages newer lawyers who display exemplary leadership to consider applying to the YLS Council.
Working with the YLS Council is one of his favorite parts of his job, Rolwes added.
“They just infuse, I think, that youthful energy and ideas that old guys like me may not be privy to,” he said with a laugh.
Rolwes also helps maintain The Missouri Bar’s public-facing website: MissouriLawyersHelp.org. The Missouri Bar cannot refer residents to lawyers or offer legal advice, Rolwes added, so the bar offers several services to help guide the public – including downloadable forms and handbooks covering various legal topics, lists of agencies who may offer pro bono services, a lawyer search tool, and the official directory of Missouri lawyers.
By working with these public-facing services, Rolwes said, he has gained better insight into the issues many Missourians face daily.
“It’s alarming and sad at times, but when they get the help they were looking for, it’s refreshing,” he added. “To know that there’s somebody out there that is donating their time to help somebody and guide them through a difficult situation and explain to them what’s going on, that’s encouraging.”
Before joining The Missouri Bar in 2016, Rolwes worked for an independent living center in Missouri, helping direct those with disabilities to resources around the state. He also served as executive director with the YMCA Youth In Government program for several years.
When Rolwes is not working at the bar, he enjoys outdoor activities and traveling with his family.