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Few endeavors are better suited to the unique skills of senior lawyers than pro bono legal work on behalf of persons of limited economic means. Across the nation, lawyers whose careers have ranged from solo to large firm practice, from corporate to government work, and from the judiciary to the academic world are contributing their talents to the provision of legal services to low income and older persons in their communities.
Senior lawyers choose to do pro bono work for a variety of different reasons. Some of these reasons include a desire to continuing using legal skills after retirement, to learn about new areas of the law, to continue interacting with the legal community on a regular basis, or a commitment to public service.
While the reasons for doing pro bono work vary, however, the crushing need for legal representation at no cost does not. Experts estimate that as much as 80% of the legal needs of low income citizens go unmet. After spending many years perfecting their craft, senior lawyers are in a perfect position to help chip away at the unmet legal needs of low-income persons throughout this country.
The Second Season of Service initiative focused on the legal needs and talents of lawyers who are transitioning from full-time practice to pursue other interests. This segment of the lawyer population will have many specialized issues and questions that we can help identify and address, including business and life concerns. Our profession must be able and ready to meet these needs. This population is redefining retirement, from a time of leisure to a time of renewed vigor and purpose; it represents the new "Giving Generation."
Pro bono work has long been supported and encouraged by the ABA, and the association's Board of Governors approved a plan it hopes will further encourage lawyers to contribute to their community by making retired and inactive members who have provided 500 hours of pro bono service in the prior year eligible for a waiver of their ABA membership dues the following year.
Upon request, an ABA member who is no longer in the active practice of law who completes 500 hours of pro bono legal service within a calendar year may receive a dues waiver with appropriate documentation. The definition of pro bono legal services work is set forth in Model Rule 6.1. The applicant must show proof that at least 250 of the 500 hours of pro bono work involved direct representation of persons of limited means or organizations that provide services to those individuals, service on boards of organizations serving the poor, or serving as non-compensated legal staff for such organizations. To participate in this program, contact the ABA Service Center at 1-800-285-2221 or Service@abanet.org.
Although the idea of senior lawyer pro bono is still growing in popularity, there are excellent pro bono projects for senior lawyers already in existence. An up-to-date resource for finding existing pro bono projects at the state and local level is the Law and Aging Guide, published by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. The state-specific guide is designed to help older persons address law-related issues, so it has up-to-date listings of pro bono programs and other services benefiting the elderly. However, the guide is also a comprehensive resource for those who prefer to do pro bono work on behalf of persons in all age ranges because it lists all of the legal assistance projects involving volunteer attorneys as well. Specifically, the guide identifies: (a) elder law hotlines, (b) legal assistance developers, (c) long-term care ombudsmen, (d) legal services programs funded under the Older Americans Act, (e) senior lawyer bar committees/sections, (f) local chapters of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), (g) legal assistance projects involving private attorneys, (h) law schools and legal clinics, (i) attorneys general offices, (j) state protection and advocacy agencies, (k) dispute resolution, and (l) other projects.
The Attorney Emeritus Program in New York encourages large law firms to include retired lawyers in their pro bono matters. Under the program, firms offer their retired attorneys meaningful work and provide work space, secretarial help, technology support, and malpractice insurance. As of July 2013, nine firms have thus far pledged to implement this program, and outreach continues to large firms and bar associations to expand participation.
In addition to programs at the state and local level, such as those identified in the Law and Aging Guide, there are national programs designed to promote senior lawyer pro bono. One such program embraces a movement to allow senior lawyers to provide pro bono work with the support of their former employers. The Senior Public Interest Lawyer Project (SPILP), formed by Adrian Steel of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, has ideas designed to do just that in the context of large law firms. SPILP encourages firms to provide legal services to the indigent and needy through a choice of scenarios, including permitting a senior lawyer to join the firm's pro bono department or allowing an attorney to remain a part of the firm while working at a legal services provider's office. For more information on SPILP, go to www.mayerbrownrowe.com/publications/article.asp?id=1452&nid=6.
Another national program, the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), has a stated mission "to mobilize the resources of senior attorneys to provide highly skilled volunteer legal assistance to local and international nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and governmental agencies for the purpose of advancing the rule of law, protecting human rights and promoting equitable economic development and opportunity worldwide." Examples of completed, current and proposed projects include assistance to the Law Revision Commission for the District of Brcko in the former Yugoslavia and the proposed creation of a Southern Africa Regional Legal Training and Professional Development Center.
If a senior lawyer does not see what he or she is interested in after a search of existing senior lawyer pro bono projects, however, another option for that lawyer is to help create a new senior lawyer pro bono project. A publication resource that can help lawyers set up new senior lawyer pro bono project is Senior Lawyers Organizing & Volunteering: A National Profile, published by the ABA Center for Pro Bono and Senior Lawyers Division in 1996. Each chapter in the publication outlines senior lawyer opportunities in a particular state, and the intent of the publication is to allow states to learn from each other. The themes of the publication include: (1) the organization of senior lawyers at the state and local level, (2) the development of senior lawyer pro bono projects, (3) individual pro bono activity, (4) state bar emeritus attorney rules, and (5) waiver or reduction of bar fees available to senior lawyer state bar members. Therefore, this publication is a good resource for finding ideas or models from other states for use in setting up a senior lawyer pro bono project.
Senior Attorney Volunteers for the Elderly (SAVE) goes beyond serving as a model or idea generator. SAVE, a program co-sponsored by AARP's Legal Counsel for the Elderly and the ABA's Senior Lawyers Division, Commission on Law and Aging, and Center for Pro Bono, is designed to help senior lawyers set up new pro bono programs to serve the elderly. The program's goal is to encourage senior lawyers to create a local network of senior attorney volunteers for the elderly, and each program developed through SAVE will provide elder law training, supervision and malpractice insurance by the sponsoring legal services provider.
Finally, another strong source for information useful to setting up a senior lawyer pro bono project is state bar elder law sections and committees. A sampling of the states with elder law sections and committees includes: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Contact information for these and other similar entities may be found in the Law and Aging Guide.
Due to the significant cost of state bar memberships, many seniors change their bar status to inactive or simply let their bar memberships lapse altogether. In addition, some senior lawyers no longer live in the state where they were admitted. To address this problem, some states have created emeritus rules to allow lawyers licensed in other jurisdictions to gain limited admission to the bar of the new state to perform pro bono work. Emeritus rules also permit senior lawyers from a particular jurisdiction to obtain a limited license in that jurisdiction to perform pro bono work without paying their former licensing fees. Currently, the following states have emeritus rules: Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.
State emeritus rules have varying restrictions. As an example of the concept, however, Florida's rule governing emeritus attorney pro bono participation is contained in Chapter 12 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. Under Rule 12, an emeritus attorney is any person retired from the practice of law who: (1) has been engaged in the active practice of law for 10 of the previous 15 years preceding application, (2) has been a member in good standing of the state bar of Florida or another state, (3) has not failed the Florida bar examination three or more times, (4) agrees to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct and submit to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida for any disciplinary purposes, and (5) neither asks for nor receives compensation for any legal services rendered under Rule 12. If a retired attorney meets the restrictions set forth above, he or she, in association with an approved legal aid organization and under the supervision of a supervising attorney, may appear in court, prepare pleadings and other documents to be filed in court, and engage in such other preparatory activities as necessary.
Many senior lawyers do not perform pro bono work because they do not carry personal malpractice insurance. However, to combat this very problem, many existing pro bono programs carry their own malpractice insurance for volunteers. Accordingly, a volunteer senior lawyer performing pro bono work through such a program is automatically covered against malpractice liability. In addition, if a senior lawyer wishes to perform pro bono work outside of insured programs, the senior lawyer can always choose to fund a personal malpractice insurance policy as well. Lawyers in need of malpractice insurance coverage for their pro bono activities should contact existing pro bono programs in their area to inquire about the existence of such coverage.
Senior lawyers hesitate to participate in pro bono work in some instances due to a lack of office space and administrative help. After years of practicing law in a firm setting, for example, a senior lawyer may no longer have access to many of the items he or she took for granted - supplies, clerical support, transportation, or simply a suitable address or phone number for work purposes.
Due to this hurdle to performing pro bono work, programs are popping up to encourage law firms to support senior lawyer pro bono by their retired lawyers through the provision of office space, supplies, and clerical support. Examples of such programs are listed in the Existing Senior Lawyer Pro Bono Projects section.
On the other hand, if a senior lawyer is not affiliated with a law firm or other entity willing to provide such support, not-for-profit institutions may offer this option as well. Some pro bono programs offer administrative help, letterhead and supplies, and other perks to volunteers in order to increase volunteer lawyer participation. Volunteers in need of office space and other administrative assistance should contact existing pro bono programs nearby, or local bar associations, for additional information on similar programs in their area.
A lawyer's previous expertise can be a barrier to pro bono work by senior lawyers. If, for example, a lawyer has forty years of experience in corporate transactions, he or she might be reluctant to accept family law litigation cases pro bono.
Initially, it is important to point out that lawyers have done pro bono work in every area of the law. That said, however, the bulk of the need for a pro bono lawyer is in direct representation. Instead of viewing new areas of law as barrier to participation, however, senior lawyers may look at these new areas of law as an opportunity for learning more about the practice of law. Established pro bono programs in most communities provide excellent orientation, training and supervision of lawyer volunteers. Therefore, in such a setting, lawyers can feel comfortable that they are doing quality work in new areas of law to serve the public good.
Also, a lawyer need not serve exclusively on the receiving end of such training sessions. Instead, lawyers may use their wealth of experiences as practicing lawyers to serve as trainers or mentors to other lawyers and staff in a pro bono capacity through existing pro bono programs.
Some senior lawyers choose not to do pro bono work because they feel as though their schedule is not regular enough to allow for such work. However, if a volunteer lawyer can only participate in a limited number of cases due to frequent travel, other commitments, or a simple desire to retain a flexible schedule, participating in pro bono work through an established pro bono program can usually accommodate such a lifestyle. Established pro bono programs offer various pro bono opportunities ranging from direct representation in litigation or transactional matters to discrete tasks. The discrete tasks include brief advice and counsel, training volunteers and staff, mentoring, drafting community legal education materials or training materials, legislative advocacy, and co-counsel arrangements.
In addition, if a senior lawyer performs pro bono work through an emeritus program, a participating pro bono program will supervise the senior lawyer's work. Consequently, at least one other lawyer in the office will know the facts and status of each case the senior lawyer is working on, so that lawyer can cover for the senior lawyer if necessary.