About 20 years ago, when I was president of my state bar, I wrote an article titled, “Lawyers as Leaders.” It was about why I became a lawyer although no one else in my family had ever been a lawyer. My father, an oral surgeon, advised, “Do whatever you feel qualified to do, except don’t be a lawyer or a Democrat.”
Because of my studies in biology and chemistry, I decided medicine wasn’t for me. But what did impress me was seeing almost every major community project headed or influenced by lawyers. Lawyers were the leaders in getting things done.
After several years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which also involved great examples of leadership, I was ready for law school. (Sorry, Dad.) On entering the practice of law, I wasn’t disappointed with the opportunities to be involved in projects and programs that involved legal skills, problem solving, and decision making. Those opportunities were particularly open in law firms, professional organizations, and community service groups.
After many years of practice as a lawyer, I’m now a member of a professional organization where age and experience are highly valued. The Senior Lawyers Division is composed of all ABA members age 62 and older, and there are almost 60,000 of us. We’re in the later stages of our legal careers, but we got here by leaping over or around difficult problems and potential mistakes.
So what should be next with all this hard-earned experience? Can we still be leaders? Our SLD not only answers “Yes,” but it opens the door to continued service to our profession and to our country.
The SLD is developing certain centers of excellence where experience and leadership are key. For example, the division has been on the forefront of addressing the opioid crisis. In 2018, we held the first Opioid Summit, supported by 20 other ABA entities and outside groups. The proposals that came out of the summit were adopted by the ABA House of Delegates.
This year, we united with the ABA Health Law Section and the American Medical Association to present a Showcase Program at the Annual Meeting. That work is continuing with Health Law Section and AMA members.
Other centers of excellence involve our work with lawyers who specialize in elder law. For disaster relief, our division is offering the services of senior lawyers for a program where we work with members of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. We’re organizing a working group of senior members of law firms to tackle difficult issues in law firm management and to develop possible solutions to problems that plague law firms and divert them from providing the highest level of legal service to clients.
Many of our members are relying on their expertise, achieved through years of practice, to write articles for this magazine, for our Voice of Experience newsletter, and for books published by the ABA. In exercising our responsibility to advocate, this year the SLD will attend ABA Law Day in Washington to speak to our elected representatives on critical matters of ABA policy.
The SLD is looking for ABA members who still want to contribute and lead. If you’re interested, contact me or someone on our council and tell us your interests, capabilities, and availability.