By: Lila Sol, Esq., Director of VLP at Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
Every month, Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s (SALA) Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) recognizes a legal professional for their legal volunteerism. The award is a distinct honor and highlights the dedication and commitment of 12 individuals each year who give their valuable time and expertise to the community. Frederick J. Petersen, Esq. is the April 2023 Outstanding Volunteer of the Month Award Recipient.
Frederick J. Petersen, Esq., is a commercial lawyer focused in bankruptcy, business restructures, commercial litigation and real estate. Fred’s commitment to SALA started immediately upon his graduation from law school and is approaching two and half decades of providing consistent, quality volunteer services. Fred has provided the groundwork support of direct client representation and the organizational work of supporting SALA’s mission by serving on the board of directors (including two terms as president). Further, Fred’s support and commitment to access to legal justice has not been limited to SALA, as he also donates time to other legal non-profits and the Bankruptcy Self Help Center in the Tucson community. Quite simply put, Fred has taken his ethical duty to “…render public interest legal services…to low income individuals or organizations serving low income individuals…” (ER 6.1(a)) as a staple to his life as an attorney, not just an extra activity.
Fred grew up in southeastern Idaho and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in history and political science from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Fred earned his juris doctor from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. Fred joined his current firm, Mesch Clark Rothschild, in 1998 as a law clerk while attending law school. He then became an associate at Mesch Clark Rothschild in 1999, became a shareholder in 2005, and became the managing partner in 2011.
Over his years of service, he has volunteered to handle 151 appointments in 33 legal clinics. Fred’s focus in clinics has been through VLP’s bankruptcy / debt advice-only clinics and the Bankruptcy Reaffirmation Hearing clinics. He has taken on 21 direct representation cases for clients involving debt and bankruptcy law matters.
To track Fred’s impact by the numbers alone would be incomplete. Fred’s commitment is not only an “on the ground” effort in serving clients pro bono, it is also a systemic and organizational effort in which his impact has a rippling effect on the broader efforts of SALA. He has served on the SALA Board of Directors for 11.5 years. He also served two terms as President of the Board of Directors, in one of the most challenging times, the COVID-19 pandemic. And, board membership is a time commitment! Fred just recently concluded his board and presidential term, but his commitment to SALA continues because he also serves on VLP’s Advisory Committee.
For many years, Fred consistently declined our nominations of him for awards and recognition, insisting that as President of the SALA Board he should not receive an award. However, we finally convinced him to permit us to honor him as Volunteer of the Month for November 2021 and the VLP Lowell E. Rothschild 2021 Volunteer of the Year. He was also nominated by VLP/SALA for the Arizona Top 50 Pro Bono Attorneys in 2022 and was selected by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education for this prestigious award. His work and dedication would undoubtedly have earned him numerous awards prior to 2021; it is clear that his commitment is not about the recognition, but is a true example of altruism.
Fred’s award of the VLP Lowell E. Rothschild 2021 Volunteer of the Year was symbolic and fitting, given Fred credits some of his dedication to community to the late Lowell E. Rothschild, Esq. Fred describes Mr. Rothschild’s unique law practice management as a foundation to his work as an attorney. Mr. Rothschild believed it was an obligation of attorneys to use their skills and talents to commit to continuous involvement and improvement to the community. Therefore, the culture of Mesch Clark Rothschild supported attorneys in serving in a variety of community enrichment activities in a variety of ways, and the firm continues to do so today. Fred is proud of his colleague’s activities and extensive volunteerism.
Join us in honoring Frederick J. Petersen, Esq., for his long-standing, multi-faceted, committed, professional, and generous commitment to access to justice for low-income Arizonans.