Congratulations to Cam Leonard, ANDVSA’s September Volunteer Attorney of the Month!
Cam has worked with ANDVSA as a pro bono attorney since 2017, taking on cases involving divorce, sexual assault and custody and getting results that positively impact lives. Recently reflecting on the experience, Cam noted “If I can say anything, I would encourage other attorneys to just take a chance on it, take a case. I guarantee their client will be better off with them helping her than trying to do something on her own. They will learn as they go, and I bet it will be a satisfying experience for them. I’m hoping others take the plunge that I finally took.”
Cam Leonard grew up in Massachusetts and attended Deep Springs College in California, which changed the trajectory of his life. He followed the advice of a classmate to check out Alaska after graduating from law school at University of California Berkeley and moved up to Fairbanks in 1983 where he has spent his legal career since.
After clerking for Alaska Supreme Court Judge Jay Rabinowitz, Cam started out as a public defender for a year and a half, accumulating trial experience as a young attorney. Post-Exxon Valdez, the State of Alaska expanded its environmental protection enforcement across the board and a new position opened at the Alaska Department of Law in the Environmental and Natural Resources sections. Twenty-four years later, Cam left the Alaska Department of Law after serving as Senior Assistant Attorney General. For the past six years, Cam has been working at Perkins Coie representing clients appearing before the agencies he used to represent, noting “it’s a pretty special place and there’s a strong commitment to pro bono. It’s a progressive firm and I’m lucky to have ended up there.”
Cam’s experience in the legal system and his openness to learning has made him an invaluable asset to the individuals and families to whom he has provided pro bono services. But he didn’t always know how much of a difference he could make because of perceptions about expertise. “For years, I had a theoretical commitment to pro bono, but I felt like I didn’t have the expertise to help where it was most needed, which seems to be in the family law arena.” Through his own tenacity and ANDVSA support, Cam was able to challenge previously held notions about who belongs in the pro bono family law practice sphere. According to Cam, “It certainly seems to me that there are a lot of folks out there who would benefit from any attorney stepping up to help them, whether that attorney has any expertise in family law or not. Some of these folks, they’ve maybe never been in a court room, they don’t know what an exhibit is. You know, I think attorneys who are hesitant to sign up and handle some of these cases are maybe undervaluing the assistance they can give as an attorney and a person comfortable with the court system. It’s been really rewarding, the two clients I helped have been really appreciative, you can see how much it means to them to get custody over their kids, or a restraining order against an abusive husband. That’s a different feeling, a more personal connection.”
Cam is in the process of slowly retiring. He tries to get out on some of the many rivers in and outside of the state in between gardening and learning to playing the guitar. Over the next few weeks, Cam will spend time far from his home in Fairbanks, exploring the Okavango Delta and Zambezi River. When he gets back, he hopes to keep doing pro bono work into retirement.