2023 Excellence Awards: Caitlinrose Fisher & Virginia McCalmont

2023-06 Fisher-McCalmont Banner

Caitlinrose Fisher & Virginia McCalmont (Forsgren Fisher McCalmont DeMarea Tysver) were awarded the Excellence Award for Providing Pro Bono Service. Fisher and McCalmont maintain a robust pro bono practice of civil rights appeals and impact district court litigation. In 2022, they provided over 200 hours of pro bono services. The two obtained partial appellate reversals in two separate civil rights appeals. They also have two additional pending pro bono appeals in the Eighth Circuit. (These answers were provided via email and were written together.)

1. What has been a meaningful moment in your pro bono service?
There are many meaningful moments, most of which are quiet and privileged. A particularly powerful and public moment, however, occurred during our first pro bono matter, which was a referral from the Federal Bar Association’s Pro Se Project. We represented Aida Al-Kadi, a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her hijab in violation of her religious practice while in police custody. We believed strongly in Ms. Al-Kadi’s ability to win at trial. But Ms. Al-Kadi ultimately decided to settle because she cared about future change, and we were able to achieve policy reforms during the settlement process that would not have been possible from a jury verdict.

Within hours of announcing the settlement, Ms. Al-Kadi’s story, and the policy reforms that we had achieved, were being reported on around the world. It was striking to see that someone who had struggled to find a lawyer had, through her courage, perseverance, and the ultimate assistance of pro bono counsel, been able to achieve not only a policy-changing outcome, but also an outcome that warranted global reporting.

2. What do you wish more attorneys knew about your area of pro bono work?
There are more opportunities to work on civil rights appeals than other appeals in areas of the law because state actors can file interlocutory appeals from orders denying qualified immunity. You just have to keep an eye on district court dockets for orders denying qualified immunity.

3. Who is a legal hero/mentor to you?
We were both fortunate to work for and be mentored by the late Diana Murphy of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, District of Minnesota, and Fourth Judicial District. (We actually met our first day as law clerks for Judge Murphy and we have worked together ever since.) Our commitment to Judge Murphy, and the development of Eighth Circuit law, is a large reason why we maintain an active pro bono practice representing plaintiffs in civil rights appeals before the Eighth Circuit.

4. How would you like to see the legal profession or our local legal community change?
Our profession still has a way to go to make it easier for people to take leaves from work—whether a parenting, bereavement, medical, or other leave. Clients and lawyers are too often put in a tough position between moving forward with the attorney they trust and want to work with and enabling that attorney to care for her own health. We are encouraged by the Minnesota Tax Court’s recent order on continuances and parenting leave and the continuance-related proposal being considered by the Minnesota Supreme Court. We hope our profession continues to do better on this front. We’ll all be better lawyers, and happier people, for it.

5. What do you do to unwind and recharge from your work?
We both enjoy the Twin Cities’ many lakes, rivers, and parks, often in the company of our families, which include two very supportive spouses and seven children under the age of 10.

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter