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On a typical morning, the wide steps of the Kings County, N.Y., Supreme Court swarm with would-be landlords and loud lawyers hawking properties in tax forfeiture; inside, hard-charging suits steam through the marble corridors jabbering into cell phones, mostly demanding to know, “Can you hear me?”; and anxious clients pace around judicial chamber doors, desperately searching for their attorneys’ faces. Any tense new lawyer, either a solo or with a small firm, would find it very difficult to manage in such a madhouse without a mentor — one like veteran solo attorney Mootze Michel-Roache. In addition to pursuing her solo practice, Michel-Roache is a founding member of the Community Legal Resource Network at City University of New York School of Law at Queens College, which provides practical training in the legal profession for CUNY law students and a lifeline for recent graduates trying to make it on their own as solos or small-firm lawyers. Making the courthouse rounds on Wednesday morning, she said — as she has on so many occasions when she has a young lawyer or law student in tow — “Now then, do you see what it’s like in the real world? You can get very chewed up. “You have to know just where to go, when to go, and who to talk to — and how to talk. How to talk to the judges, I mean. Like they’re just people.” Otherwise, the workaday aggravations will quickly sink someone out there without a big-firm safety net. To be sure, the aggravations in the solo practice, an essentially hand-to-hand business, abound — even for the likes of Michel-Roache. One Wednesday, for example, there was the court officer with a certain sense of priority: First, fill in number 14-down in the New York Post crossword puzzle, and then look up from the paper to respond to a lawyer’s query. There was the file clerk who declined to close out a guardianship settlement because a death certificate issued by the government of Trinidad declared the deceased in question to be a resident of “New York U.S.A.”, as opposed to the proper “Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.” And of course, there are physical demands of practicing solo. In addition to the big leather pocketbook strapped on her back, Michel-Roache lugs around a foot-high stack of client briefs and a canvas tote bag crammed full of hefty books. Forget about taking off her coat. It helps to have something above and beyond in mind, as Michel-Roache certainly did that Wednesday morning. That evening, she would accompany her husband, retired Brooklyn Family Court Judge Philip D. Roache, to a dinner honoring the benefactors of a new clinic planned for St. John’s University School of Law, the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development. (Until he died in an April 1996 plane crash in Croatia, Brown was Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton.) MENTOR AT CUNY To Professor Frederick P. Rooney, project director for the CUNY law school program, Michel-Roache is “queen of all mentors.” One of the people Michel-Roache mentors, Marcus Succes, 25, a CUNY law student from Haiti, where Michel-Roache herself was born, said of her: “Having someone to sort of take your hand and show you everything, and give you advice free of charge — my God, it’s everything.” He added: “Without a mentor, you can spend a lifetime trying to reinvent the wheel.” Succes enrolled at CUNY law after graduating from Hunter College last year. He soon became discouraged in his legal studies, he said, and talked of dropping out. “But Mootze asked me to think — to really think,” said Succes. “She said, ‘Well, what are your plans for next year, and for the year after?’ I told her, and she asked, ‘Is that better than going to law school?’ “ Succes remained. In fact, he is working in Professor Rooney’s clinic, and he is helping Michel-Roache to computerize operations in her two law offices, one in lower Manhattan, where she has been without telephone service since Sept. 11, the other in Harlem. “She definitely has some sort of power,” said another prot�g�, Ian Sack, 25. “She can cast a spell. She’s a nurturing kind of person. I felt like her son.” Now in his final year at CUNY law, Sack said of the lessons learned from his mentor: “She made me understand the practical aspects of things, the hustle and the business aspect — what she does to survive, to pay the rent and overhead. “And she dragged me through every court in this city,” Sack added. “I don’t know where she gets the energy. In one day, she can be in four or five different courts, in two or three different boroughs. I hear she gets acupuncture once in awhile.” Hector Fernandez, 26, another CUNY law prot�g�, spoke of Michel-Roache’s patience. “If you don’t pick up something right away that she’s trying to teach you, she’ll find a way,” he said. “Her whole manner is: You’ll learn and you’ll understand.” Michel-Roache was as determined for her own future as a lawyer as she has been for any of her charges. “You could say she had a sort of ‘dream deferred’ experience,” said her son, 31-year-old Patrick Michel, a fifth-year corporate associate at Davis Polk & Wardell. “When I graduated from high school in 1988, my mother graduated from CUNY.” CUNY GRADUATE For all but her final year at CUNY law, Michel-Roache was a night student. By day, she was a school teacher in Brooklyn. And she has always volunteered time to The Gathering: The Mount Vernon Women’s Center, a not-for-profit organization helping women and girls overcome social adversities. “She’s always telling me, ‘You’ll be better off giving away your last dime because it will come back to you tenfold,’” said Michel. “I joke with her and say, ‘Being a corporate lawyer, I have no concept of that whatsoever.’ “ Asked to describe Michel-Roache in a single word, Rooney thought for a long moment before his choice: charming. “I find that’s a hard adjective to use about a lot of people,” he said. Succes could not confine himself to a single word. “Everyone should meet someone like Mootze,” he said. “Everyone should meet one individual who can change a life.”

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