January 01, 2014

Great Pro Bono Opportunities for Senior Lawyers: How and Where to Find Them

Mary K. Ryan

There is no better or more fulfilling way for senior lawyers to utilize their legal skills and stay connected to their profession than to do pro bono legal work on behalf of persons with limited means. Across the country, a growing number of senior and retired attorneys are contributing their time and expertise to the provision of legal services to the underserved, whether they are solo or large-firm practitioners, corporate or government attorneys, or members of the judiciary and the academic world.

Senior lawyers choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some seek to continue using their legal skills after retirement, while others want to learn an area of the law in which they have never practiced. Many view pro bono work as an opportunity to remain active in the legal community and uphold a commitment to public service. Howard Goffen, www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/probono_public_service/ls_pb_pbp_2012_goffen.authcheckdam.mov, a retired lawyer who received an ABA Pro Publico Award in 2012 for more than 7,000 post-retirement hours of pro bono service, found mentoring young lawyers to be a compelling and motivating part of his work.

While the reasons for doing pro bono work vary, the crushing need for legal representation at no charge does not. National and statewide research conducted regularly over the past 25 years reflects that as much as 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet. Senior lawyers are in an ideal position to help narrow this justice gap by applying skills developed after many years of practice in private, governmental, and corporate law settings. In Boston, Massachusetts, Senior Partners for Justice, www.vlpnet.org/partners, was organized by a retired probate and family court judge in collaboration with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. It has recruited nearly 1,000 senior lawyers to help thousands of low-income clients through direct service and mentoring junior lawyers since it began in 2002.

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