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A stalwart advocate for pro bono, Fain retiring from court at end of 2023

The name Patty Fain is synonymous with pro bono within Montana’s legal community. Having taken on the role of statewide pro bono coordinator for the Montana Supreme Court in 2008, Fain has been instrumental in statewide efforts to establish programs to provide legal services to the indigent. 

Fain is a seasoned and creative legal project developer, a director, and volunteer coordinator possessing excellent communication, organizational, technical, and problem-solving skills. Luckily for Montanans, she was also the person tasked to resolve the question: “What is the difference between simple access to the courts and access to justice?”
Fain’s wisdom that the entire community is positively impacted when you help people get back on their feet reverberates through every initiative she touches. To her, fulfilling a pro bono need is not a box to check, but a client to serve. There are few pro bono projects in the state for which Patty has not been the nuts and bolts, identifying the problems and lining up the stakeholders and mediators. Family law projects, treatment courts, mediation clinics—they have all consulted with Fain.

Before joining the Court, Fain worked as a volunteer to start Yellowstone County’s Pro Bono Family Law Project and served on the State Bar of Montana’s Access to Justice Committee. Later, she was instrumental in creating the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. In coordination with the Justice Initiatives Committee, she wrote the state’s first Pro Bono Policy Toolkit, a guide for lawyers to develop, adopt and distribute pro bono policies.  She coordinated on behalf of the Court to set up self-help stations throughout the state. She was a driving force behind the launch of the state’s first Early Resolution and Mediation Project in the 11th Judicial District, a court-connected mediation program for resolving pro se family law cases through a cost-free mediation process.  That pilot program led to what is now the Supreme Court’s Simplified Family Law Project, which in conjunction with Montana Legal Services Association has developed a statewide mediation program for separating families.  Fain’s early research and collaborative efforts to develop best practices helped pave the way for this project, which could transform how the justice system responds to self-represented family matters. Recently, she initiated yet another initiative, the Pro Bono Action Committee to reinvigorate past initiatives and loop in newcomers. 

With few resources at her disposal and plenty of big ideas to pursue, Patty’s grit and tenacity are her greatest strengths. Patty taught herself to code for the sole purpose of information gathering and reporting, pulled together great minds, and kept everyone on task—acting as the subconscious on the shoulder, reminding everyone about the “why” of the work. It is hard to imagine anyone else being able to do so much with so little. All the while, raising a family, volunteering in her community, and being a friend and mentor. 
After many years, Fain is retiring as the Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Liaison at the close of 2023 — though we know she will continue to share her expertise. In looking for a way to honor Fain’s work, we think about people. There is no doubt that she has always done this work because she believes in people, and she believes that pro bono representation empowers people. And so be on the lookout in future editions of the Montana Lawyer for a new regular section titled, “The Pro Bono Chronicles”—where we will share pro bono opportunities and stories of some of the pro bono clients that attorneys from our state bar are able to serve. As we all continue to grow pro bono opportunities within the state, we will continue to work towards Fain’s goal of putting people first for the advancement of the entire community.