Jim Rocap’s day job at Steptoe & Johnson LLP brings him into courtrooms all over the country arguing on behalf of major property/casualty insurers in disputes over large-claim commercial issues.
But for more than 30 years, Rocap, Steptoe’s pro bono chair, has spent countless hours working pro bono for homeless people, in part through his service on the board of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
He’s also become a dedicated advocate for death row inmates, including the case in Virginia that ended with the high-profile execution last year of Teresa Lewis, convicted of hiring two men to kill her husband and stepson. Rocap is an outspoken advocate against the death penalty, a system he calls “broken,” noting that the cases he’s tried have involved people with substantial evidence of mental incapacity.
Philosophically, Rocap favors targeting his pro bono efforts. “A lot of lawyers want to have broad impact [in their pro bono work], and that’s good. I like to work with people directly.”
Rocap acknowledges the emotional toll death penalty cases take on an attorney. “Originally, I took on these cases because I just wanted to be sure. These are people facing the most serious thing that can happen to them. They deserve a chance,” Rocap said. “But after they killed Teresa, I now believe our system is broken in a very bad way.”
Robert Lee, executive director of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, worked with Rocap on the Lewis case. “Jim takes these cases as if they were retained clients…he won’t compromise on the quality of that representation.” — Lisa Holton