April 01, 2018 EXP

Lawyers Speak: How I'm Making a Difference

By Louraine Arkfeld, Robert S. Herbst, Douglas E. Noll, Alex Gertsburg, and Stuart Shiffman

Last issue, we featured an article—8 Steps to Repurposing the Retiring Lawyer in You—to give you a road map for finding purpose in your retirement.

Of course, one way to find purpose is to give back. So in this issue, we continue on that mission by featuring the first-person accounts of five lawyers—some retired, some still working toward retirement—who’ve found greater purpose and meaning in their lives by helping others.

We admire these five lawyers for their commitment to improving others’ lives, and we’re hoping their experiences will help you find the best way to give back yourself.

HELPING IN WAYS NEVER ANTICIPATED

A regular ABA meeting leads to a path of volunteer work a former judge didn’t envision but now can’t imagine not continuing.

By Louraine Arkfeld

When I retired, I was leaving a career primarily as a criminal court judge that had been preceded by time first as a prosecutor and then as a public defender.

There was nothing in that career that gave me any expertise in dementia issues. And fortunately for me, I hadn’t had to deal with dementia challenges in my immediate family, although I certainly had many close friends who’d been almost overwhelmed at dealing with Alzheimer’s in their family.

So while I was aware of the issue, I wasn’t particularly engaged in it. I was engaged in volunteer activities in my community, but I wasn’t focused on this or really any particular issue.

That was about to change.

SHOCKED, AND INSPIRED, INTO ACTION

In April 2016, I was chair of the Senior Lawyers Division, and we held our Spring Meeting in Tempe, Ariz. One reason that location was chosen was that Tempe had been designated one of nation’s pilot Dementia-Friendly Communities. Our programming for the Spring Meeting focused on Alzheimer’s and dementia issues, from the current state of the medical research and legal issues for families facing Alzheimer’s to coping mechanisms for families and what it means to be a Dementia-Friendly Community.

I was amazed and shocked by what I learned about the extent of the problem and the continuing and frustrating efforts to find a cure or any prevention. Meanwhile, so many live with the burden of this disease—for which at this point there’s no day after the diagnosis when it’ll better but many days where it’ll be worse.

I was inspired into action and as a result became engaged in not only providing additional training on this critical issue but also in providing hands-on support. In fact, it has become a big part of my volunteer commitment.

A CHAMPION FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT

I was invited to join the Tempe Action Team for the Dementia-Friendly Community. One of our projects where I volunteer is the Memory Café, a weekly gathering for caregivers and their partners with memory loss. We provide social activity for those with memory loss to engage in while the caregivers have an opportunity to participate in a support group.

On our very first day, we had only a few participants, but they were so grateful for this time. So we worked to spread the word in our community, and now we are full to overflowing each week. Our attendees consider this the highlight of their week. And caregivers have said this time is truly a lifesaver. That gives my work there so much meaning.

I’ve also been trained as a Dementia Champion to help provide training in our community—whether to banks, offices, grocery stores, libraries, operators of transportation vehicles—anywhere where persons with memory loss could be seeking services so that those providing the services can be understanding and helpful in their interactions. To date, we’ve trained almost 800 Dementia Friends.

Imagine the difference this makes in our community to have caregivers and their partners with memory loss welcomed with care and understanding as they continue to try to go about their daily lives. Again, it imbues my work with meaning.

WORKING THE LEGAL ANGLE, TOO

Also in attendance at the initial program were staff from the State Bar of Arizona. They were so inspired by what they learned that they wanted to begin providing training for lawyers and judges on the important issue of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the legal profession. I was invited to join their effort.

We first presented a nationwide webinar, Hidden in Plain Sight: Dementia and Its Impact on Lawyers and Judges, in February 2017. (I would note with pride that this national session won the Community and Educational Outreach Award from the National Association of Bar Executives presented in August 2017.)

In April 2017, we presented another training session focused on Arizona, Spotlight on Dementia: Arizona Lawyers, Judges and the Practice of Law. In June, there was a session at the Arizona Annual Judicial Conference, a mandatory conference for all state judges in Arizona. In September, we made a similar presentation to the Scottsdale Bar Association.

We continue to be available to present on these important issues because the impact for lawyers is so great. I also participate in panels for families to help them understand the legal documents and steps they can take to ensure their ability to take care of their loved one.

I’d have never thought one program could result in so much engagement on this critical issue. And I certainly never thought this is where I’d find myself devoting more and more volunteer time.

I’m here to say that you should be open to opportunities to help that may not have been what you were originally thinking about or where you thought you had the needed expertise. You may find a cause that stirs your passion and forces you to jump in and truly make a difference. It has certainly made a difference to me.

 


 

NO EASY LIFT: BEATING THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC

A world champion powerlifter is putting his legal skills to work while spreading a message of health and fitness.

By Robert S. Herbst

I'm a powerlifter and world-class athlete, and I'm very distressed by the obesity epidemic in America and its societal and personal costs. While lawyers often want to try to change society through litigation, I want to change it by using my legal ability and fitness expertise to help make America fit again.

A LAWYER AND WORLD CHAMPION

I was admitted to the New York bar in 1984 and followed a somewhat common path after graduating from Columbia University School of Law: I was an associate at a Wall Street law firm, then a partner at a boutique firm. I later moved in-house at a Fortune 100 company and finally served as general counsel of a smaller company that I helped to take public.

Parallel to this, I continued my athletic life as a competitive powerlifter, which I’d begun in high school. I’ve been quite successful, so far amassing 19 world championships, 33 national championships, and being elected to the Amateur Athletic Union Strength Sports Hall of Fame.

The combination of my sporting background and legal and compliance expertise has enabled me to take a variety of non-legal roles. For example, I supervised the drug testing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

TAKING THE MESSAGE TO THE STREETS

Today, I’m pivoting to take on the obesity crisis. As I begin that effort, I’m joining the boards of several not-for-profits that have fitness-based programs for at-risk urban youth. I’ve joined the board of Phyt Cares, which runs programs in New York City and Puerto Rico, and am getting involved at the local level with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

I’m also looking for the right vehicles for additional roles. As a board member, I can contribute my fitness subject-matter expertise while also wearing my GC hat to see that things are being done properly. And I’ve started to spend my time in the trenches giving motivational talks and advising on fitness programs for audiences ranging from teens to seniors.

While I’m still doing some corporate legal work, I ultimately hope to spend all my time spreading the message of fitness for all. I’ve found that a lot of organizations want my expertise. I’m currently only scratching the surface in trying to find the best way to leverage my credentials and move from the local to the national level.

Although I’m not practicing law in the traditional sense, I in no way see myself as being retired. I’m always thinking like a lawyer and using my skills as an advocate to urge and instruct. I consider myself part of the long tradition of lawyers seeking to produce societal change.

WHATEVER YOUR PASSION, FOLLOW IT YOU MUST

If you’re wondering how you can give back, I suggest you find a cause about which you’re passionate or that means something to you. I’m fighting obesity because I know firsthand the benefits of being fit and how to get there, and I want people to improve their quality of life.

Whatever the cause—maybe the Boy Scouts helped you when you were younger, or perhaps a relative has suffered from a particular disease—find where there’s a need, and fill it in the way that works best for you, whether that’s by providing legal services, advising on fundraising, or doing other work. After a lifetime of honing your legal skills, I’m confident you have the ability to do great good.

 


 

HEADING BEHIND BARS TO TEACH PEACE

At great cost to his practice, this lawyer has earned personal satisfaction helping prison inmates mediate and solve conflicts.

By Douglas E. Noll

I received a phone call from my colleague, Laurel Kaufer, in August 2009. She’d received a letter from a woman serving a life sentence at the largest, most violent women’s prison in the world. That inmate was requesting that we come into the prison and teach the inmates serving life sentences how to be peacemakers and mediators so they could reduce prison violence.

We talked about the request and almost instantly decided that if it was the real deal, we’d do it. It took us six months before we finally got approval to start a pilot program that evolved into Prison of Peace.

THE SURPRISING DEMAND

We’re both experienced mediation trainers, and we thought long and hard about what would be effective in a prison environment. Based on Laurel’s experience in the post-Katrina Mississippi Mediation Project, we decided we had to spend considerable time teaching foundational skills before we taught mediation.

With an experimental curriculum developed, in April 2010, we began our first training of 15 life and long-term female inmates. What happened next astounded us. Within 4 weeks of starting a 12-week training curriculum, more than 200 women wanted the training.

After the first group, we expanded to train 35 women in a second group, then an additional 35 women in a third group. Out of that initial group of 85 women, 15 rose to become trainers. They’ve now trained hundreds more women to be peacemakers and mediators.

DONE? OH, NO, JUST GETTING STARTED

It was 2012, and we thought we were done. However, after the women’s prison was re-purposed to a men’s prison, we were repeatedly asked by the warden and the family inmate council to start Prison of Peace in the new men’s prison. Still training pro bono, we eventually agreed. In October 2013, we began training male inmates.

Significant funding from state grants and private foundations, such as the AAA-ICDR Foundation and the JAMS Foundation, came through in 2017 and 2018 to allow us to continue and expand the project. We’re now operating in 11 California prisons and four Greek prisons and will be starting the project in Connecticut in 2018.

We have more than 1,000 inmates certified at one level or another in our curriculum, from circle keepers to mediators. In addition, we’ve trained inmates to be trainers so the project is sustainable into the future.

Our post-training evaluations uniformly demonstrate that lives have been positively changed through our training. Here’s a typical letter from one of our inmates:

“What I’ve learned is enormous…Last week, I was called an idiot, and I felt disrespected by an inmate from our pod. Instead of firing back or getting physical, I recognized my feelings and emotions, waited long enough to set them aside, and responded with a calm voice and attitude with resolution in mind.

As soon as I reflected back that he’s really pissed and that I’m an idiot, he quickly apologized for snapping at me and explained that he felt disrespected when I didn’t listen to what he had been trying to tell me. I then apologized for not listing (I didn’t mean to disrespect him) and told him that I would accept his apology and feel a lot better about the whole thing. Listening, reflecting, clarifying, and verifying works!”

We’ve also witnessed the culture of prison yards being dramatically changed by the peacemakers and mediators we’ve trained. Walt Miller, the warden at Valley State Prison for Women, wrote an unsolicited letter to us stating:

“As you’re aware, prison populations are somewhat unpredictable and volatile. Since the start of the Prison of Peace program, the institution appears quieter and with less violence. I’ve seen the inmates enrolled in the Prison of Peace program step up and offer their assistance in mediating a difficult situation. The inmates in the Prison of Peace program display leadership qualities that outweigh their past criminal behavior.”

CHANGE COMES AT A PRICE

The actual training has been powerful. We’ve transformed the lives of thousands of inmates, and they’ve affected the lives of thousands of others. But we had no idea how time-consuming this project would be. Since it was pro bono, we had to find other ways to pay our bills.

Ultimately, my mediation practice suffered greatly as I devoted more and more pro bono time to this project. There’s no doubt that doing work like this requires a significant sacrifice of time and effort that could be used making money.

Working in a prison environment is challenging on a good day. Our students—lifers and long-termers—are wonderfully engaged and make all the work worthwhile. However, for every day we train in prison, there’s at least a day of administrative work.

In addition, the prison bureaucracy is slow, inefficient, and not oriented toward programs such as Prison of Peace. Thus, we’ve many times found ourselves at the bottom of the food chain.

Security issues are also of paramount concern, and we’ve found ourselves facing lockdowns without notice after driving two or three hours to a prison.

I'M IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL

I’ll continue this work for as long as I can. We’re expanding to bring in young lawyers who have a passion for this work. My role will shift as we expand our training staff and into other jurisdictions. I’ll continue to teach the advanced part of our curriculum and expect to train trainers in other jurisdictions. In addition, I expect to have a larger role in speaking engagements for fundraising and general education and awareness.

If you’re contemplating how you can give back, my advice is to follow your heart and forget about the money. I know that’s easy to say and hard to do, but I’ve done it. I’m eternally grateful that I made the choice to sacrifice financial security for service to humanity. It has made me a much better human being, and I’ve left a positive imprint on thousands of people whom our society has rejected.

If Protect of Peace intrigues you, check out our website, www.prisonofpeace.org, for more information. We offer our curriculum under license to any person who wishes to start Prison of Peace outside California. We require a royalty only if trainers are being paid for their work. Otherwise, we offer the curriculum without charge.

This work takes courage, strength, endurance, compassion, and endless patience. However, it’s the difficulty of the project that makes it so worthwhile.

 


 

HOW WE'RE CREATING AN EDUCATIONAL MOVEMENT

This is no sleepy essay contest. An Ohio lawyer says his 6,000-student contest is a challenge, but one he’s so happy he took on.

By Alex Gertsburg

Imagine a conversation that goes something like this:

“Let’s do a social experiment where we challenge a bunch of local high school students to solve one important problem they’re dealing with.”

“Might be interesting. Keep going.”

“What if you told them they had to do it in a one-page, single-spaced essay? It would exercise both parts of their brain—the problem-solving, logical left side and the creative, persuasive right side.”

“I’m listening. How many students?”

“6,000 in seven high schools.”

“That’s impossible! Who’s going to read all those essays?”

“Business owners. Professionals. Lawyers. Judges. Members of Congress. Real business leaders, the same ones who are going to employ these kids in a few years.”

“But you’d need hundreds of them. And what will the students get?”

“The students develop real-life problem-solving and communication skills, get an evaluation by professionals instead of their teachers, along with awards they can put on their resume—and oh, yeah, more than $36,000 in cash and laptop computers distributed to the winning students and their schools.”

“Wow. Where are you getting all that money?”

“From that same business community.”

“I’m in! Sign me up.”

THAT REALLY HAPPENED, IN SO MANY WORDS

That’s the conversation that has evolved over the last three years, ever since my firm and the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce joined up to start the We Solve Problems Essay Contest in 2015. That’s when it really clicked for me that both skill sets—problem-solving and communicating—are necessary to succeed in the business world.

But it wasn’t until law school that I remember really studying and honing those skills. Before then, schools and colleges in large part compartmentalized those skills in discrete classes like English and math. That light-bulb going off was the genesis of the contest three years ago.

It’s been a wild ride.

These days, I still enjoy practicing law and managing my firm, but the most meaningful and fulfilling thing I do is running the non-profit we formed to operate this essay contest. This year, seven high schools and up to 6,000 students will participate in the contest.

REVEALING STUDENTS' UNTAPPED IDEAS

That first year, we chose the problem for the students to solve. It was the scourge of cyberbullying, and it was a real problem, causing anxiety, depression, and even suicides as kids anonymously harassed, cyberstalked, or shamed their peers on Facebook or email.

We raised $10,000 that year from business owners and had 130 volunteer judges. They read essays in three rounds, with the final round judged by Cleveland Cavaliers CEO Len Komoroski and serial entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman. That first year, we had only two schools and 1,300 students involved.

The next year, we repeated the contest but nearly doubled its size to four schools and more than 2,000 students. We chose texting and driving as the problem for the students to solve, had 180 judges, and gave away $13,000.

This year, we’re asking the students to choose their own problem to solve, and we’ve nearly doubled the size again, going to seven schools and nearly 6,000 eligible students. We’ve already exceeded last year’s judge and sponsor levels. Students submitted essays on February 21, and the winners will be announced at an awards reception on May 3.

WE'VE SOLVED OUR OWN GROWING PAINS

The contest hasn’t been without its challenges. But we’ve overcome all of them (so far) with the help of a rock-star advisory board. Each year, we have to gather large numbers of judges and sponsors. Social media and local media have been great engines for this outreach.

As we grow, we also have to keep innovating and scaling to manage the increasing numbers of judges, students, and faculty. We’ve learned to leverage technology for that, including software that checks for plagiarism and that makes submitting and grading essays easy.

Time commitment is definitely an issue—I spend anywhere from 1 to 10 hours a week on this, depending on how close we are to key events like the submission deadline or the awards reception. It’s a labor of love, though. Also, the board divides that labor well, and other folks are always happy to volunteer.

There have been unexpected positive consequences from this contest. We’ve met incredible people along the way—judges, sponsors, students, teachers, and the media. Judges have also begun mentoring relationships with students; Jeff Hoffman still corresponds with finalists from the last two years.

Above all, we’ve received amazing support and feedback about this new paradigm for student education—direct, constructive interaction between high school students and business leaders specifically about these two critical skills they need in business.

I don’t have any plans to retire yet, but to lawyers thinking about giving back now or during retirement, I’ve learned a little something: Don’t be afraid to try something nobody’s ever done. Also, do what you love and what matters to you. Then keep doing it year after year because it only improves with repetition.

“And,” he concluded only-half-tongue-in-cheek, “here’s a super-easy way to give back and contribute: Sign up to be a judge in our contest or donate prize money to the winning students.” (Just go to www.gertsburglaw.com/essay to do that. You’ll love it!)

 


 

LEAVING THE BENCH TO MAKE A BIGGER DIFFERENCE

A former judge has completed a decade of following his heart when it comes to pro bono. And he’s got a lot of fuel left in his tank.

By Stuart Shiffman

Early in 2008, at the age of 59, I decided I’d retire from a 23-year judicial career. It wasn’t an easy decision because I enjoyed the job. But the daily grind was beginning to wear on me, and I believed I had more to offer my profession and my community.

Retirement was actually not the correct word for my future because, as I told friends and family, what I really wanted to do was reload. I still had sufficient idealism to believe I could contribute to that effort. I knew I’d undertake pro bono service where I was needed, but I wanted to make some difference.

For me, pro bono meant more than providing free legal services. I also wanted to continue in my professional capacity in areas of the law that while not strictly pro bono made a contribution to the law.

SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES

Lawyers are often faced with difficulty when asked to work pro bono. Just as in fee cases, the potential outcome doesn’t justify the work required. Those needing services often don’t even know where to turn to request help. And the many worthy organizations that attempt to provide legal services find that budget constraints are making their work more difficult.

Looking back over those 10 years since I retired, one thing I’ve learned is that opportunities for pro bono work are vast. In my community, I was able to contribute by assisting our local domestic violence organization in a court advocate project.

For me, it was unique work because I’d organized and created our domestic violence court structure. Now I was serving as a volunteer advocate for those who needed an attorney in court.

Over the next few years, I would attend the weekly domestic violence call and appear on the other side of the bench. It was enjoyable but frustrating work because there wasn’t enough of it to make me feel that I was making a substantial contribution.

I also began teaching. The University of Illinois at Springfield had just transitioned from a program for juniors and seniors to a four-year college. In its first year of that transition, I developed two classes for the university, one on law and literature and a second that I called Great Trials in American Law.

Granted, it wasn’t truly pro bono work, but anyone who has ever worked as an adjunct faculty member recognizes that the total hours worked when calculated against the salary make it as close to pro bono as one can get while still being paid.

My work at the University of Illinois led to another position at Illinois State University in Bloomington, where I taught judicial process, constitutional law, and a general course for paralegals. Teaching has been a joy and contributes one very important element to my retirement: My students keep me feeling young.

I ARGUED BEFORE MY FORMER COLLEAGUES

As a judge, I enjoyed doing trial work more than anything. Even today, if asked, I’d take the robes out of storage to conduct a jury trial. Early in my retirement, I wrote some briefs for our state appellate defender. I was then asked to work as a part-time staff attorney on a major case that had started as a death penalty case. I wrote and argued several cases for the office over the next few years.

It was a joyous experience for me, and I like to think that my former judicial colleagues—whom I appeared before in the appellate court—enjoyed the experience as well. The give and take at oral argument often took us to some uncharted areas.

This was a huge learning experience for me, one I wish I’d undergone before I went on the bench. It certainly would have made me a better trial court judge.

In connection with this work, I occasionally provided some informal pro bono consultation with innocence projects. Once again, it gave me new insight into the criminal justice system, both good and bad.

While I continue to practice on a limited basis, I’ve also moved into other areas of volunteer work. I’ve assisted in election campaigns to protect the right to vote, and I’ll soon be working as a volunteer to assist those in need of legal services regarding immigration issues.

A common complaint in America is that there are too many attorneys in the country. As long as there are so many in need of legal services who can neither afford nor find an attorney, that won’t be true.

Shortly after I left the bench, I met someone who asked what I was doing. My reply was, “I’m a recovering lawyer.” After 30 years at the bar and on the bench, I was once again serving my community and my profession.

When you give up your practice or your legal career, I recommend that you look for some way to continue working for justice. There are many places where your volunteer work will be appreciated and welcomed. Do something you always wanted to do but never had the time to accomplish. You’ll once again find the inspiration and zeal you had when you first became an attorney.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade, and I’ve truly enjoyed the multiple opportunities to help those in need of legal representation. But I’m not quite ready to give it up completely. I like to think I still have a few good cases left to accomplish.