After years as a practicing attorney for the federal government and major corporations, Jerry Pruzan knew the United States Supreme Court well “from the outside,” he said. He now knows it even better, from the inside as a volunteer docent.
North Bethesda resident Pruzan, a member of the Supreme Court Bar, has worked on briefs and sat at the courtroom table when the Justice Department argued cases before the justices of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court is mecca for a lawyer so after I retired I thought it would be great to know it from the inside,” he said.
After four years as a volunteer docent, Pruzan relishes his role. The Supreme Court attracts more than 300,000 visitors each year, and docents give courtroom lectures and lead private tours. “Giving back to the public and enriching their understanding of how a key branch of government works is gratifying to me,” he said.
While the training is rigorous and docents are given a final exam by leading a tour, Pruzan finds volunteering to be relaxing and fun. He especially enjoys interacting and exchanging thoughts with people from other countries.
“You don’t know what you will be confronted with. People are not always happy with the court’s decisions and part of the challenge is that some expect you to defend a court decision when the job is to explain it,” he said.
Supreme Court docents serve one three-hour period each week. For Pruzan, that means giving several 30-minute public presentations about the court or leading a private behind-the-scenes tour. The private tours go into areas the public does not see, such as conference rooms, library, lawyers lounge and courtyard. Private tours are arranged only by contacting an employee or volunteer docent of the court.
In 2010, Pruzan completed an application to become a Supreme Court volunteer. At that time he learned there were about 200 applicants for seven openings. Interviews followed. He noted that while being an attorney may be helpful, legal background is not required to be a docent. Of the seven persons selected in the year he applied, only three were lawyers. The main requirements are
comfort speaking with groups, ability to learn and present detailed information and the stamina to be able to walk and stand for long periods. Volunteers receive two months of training in sessions held twice a week.
Volunteering at the Supreme Court offers some perks in addition to personal reward. Docents have access to all programs and can be admitted to the courtroom for oral argument or decision. Also, Pruzan has met and chatted with the Supreme Court justices. “In addition to being extremely bright, the justices are friendly and easy to talk with. While I may not agree with all of the court’s opinions, as people all nine of the justices are fabulous,” he said.
Noting another benefit to volunteering, he added, “Getting out and into the community, keeps you in the game and up to date. It helps me stay on my toes.”