September 15, 2020 Chair 's Column

Chair's Column: August 2020

Senior Lawyers Division Chair Intent Letter

By Michael J. Van Zandt

Dear ABA Senior Lawyers Division Members:

I am very proud to assume the mantle of leadership as Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division (“SLD") of the American Bar Association for the 2020-21 ABA year. I note with great enthusiasm that this is the 35th year for the existence of the SLD.

In 1985, Robert W. Meserve, who was previously the President of the American Bar Association, had the vision and the inspiration to recommend the formation of the SLD as the arm of the ABA where experienced lawyers may continue to make contributions of their considerable talents to the legal profession and the ABA. I want to express my appreciation to the extremely dedicated and amazing past leaders of the SLD under whom I have served and who have been an inspiration to me. First to my mentor, Theodore A. Kolb, who got me involved with the Division, I owe a great debt. Since my association with SLD, I have been privileged to know and experience the leadership of Walter Burke, Chuck Collier, Max Bahner, Ruth Kleinfeld, Bruce Mann, Ed Schoenbaum, Seth Rosner, John Vittone, Louraine Arkfeld, Bill Missouri, Jack Young, Marvin Dang and Al Harvey. These past leaders of SLD are an inspiration and model for us all.

The SLD has become a home for experienced lawyers transitioning from practice to retirement or alternative ways to use our legal talents. SLD is the focal point for elder law, elder abuse law and for laws addressing dementia. It is also the focal point for addressing the opioid addiction crisis through SLD's Opioid Initiative Task Force. SLD not only serves our more than 46,000 ABA members but also serves the American Family through its publications and presentations on senior care and American family issues.

Key Words: The key words for my year as your Chair are: Competence, Commitment and Caring.

  • Competence: As professionals, Senior Lawyers are the most competent practitioners in the legal profession based on their experience, their training and their wisdom. Competence in one's profession is not all Senior Lawyers have to offer, they also stand as shining examples in competence for their firms, their families and their communities. They lead by example by demonstrating competence to young lawyers, to the ABA and to their local communities. This competence is what makes Senior Lawyers leaders and persons to admire. 
  • Commitment: Senior Lawyers are some of the most committed lawyers in the ABA. Many of our 46,000 plus members have been members of the ABA for 20, 30, 40 or more years. They have risen through the ranks of Section, Divisions and Forums of the ABA, served on task forces, in the ABA House of Delegates and on the Board of Governors. They have formulated ABA policies and actions over the years and have gained considerable experience in the work of the ABA. Now those very competent and committed experienced lawyers come to the Senior Lawyers Division and have expressed their desire to continue to contribute to the work of the ABA. These Senior Lawyers are the embodiment of Commitment not only to the ABA but also to their profession, their states and to their local communities. 
  • Caring: Senior Lawyers are also the embodiment of Caring. We all have a fondness and appreciation for the work of John H. Pickering, who served as the SLD Chair in 1996-97. Each year the SLD awards the John H. Pickering Award to the outstanding lawyer who best has emulated the actions and beliefs of John H. Pickering in pro bono representation of our least protected citizens. Steven A. Reiss, a recently retired partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP from New York, is this year's recipient of the Pickering Award. Mr. Reiss is an international renown litigator who has devoted a considerable amount of his time and talents to pro bono efforts. In keeping with the tradition of John H. Pickering, the SLD strives to provide much needed service to the legal profession, the less fortunate, the suffering and those addicted to opioids. By partnering with other ABA entities, SLD has programs to assist natural disaster areas, to assist those being retained at the borders who seek asylum, and SLD has instituted programs for those who are suffering from substance abuse disorder and for those in need of legal services who are abused, neglected and downtrodden.

SLD will continue its work on the opioid crisis by holding an Opioid Summit II at the Spring Meeting in Denver in April 2021. This summit will seek not only to continue spreading the word about the addiction crisis but also will work on legal solutions to the issues, such as drug court reform, removing legal obstacles to medically assisted treatment and working with the American Medical Association to facilitate the treatment of opioid addicted patients in a humane and effective manner.

In addition to the Opioid Task Force, SLD will be forming task forces and Centers of Excellence this year to address elder abuse and dementia and to provide opportunities for pro bono work for the elderly, for those affected by the Covid pandemic, for immigrants, for racial justice and for those affected by disasters.

Diversity and Inclusion: As an act for racial and social justice, SLD will ensure all members of SLD are included in SLD activities and their voices are heard no matter what their race, creed, place of origin, sex, sexual orientation or religion may be. Through the SLD Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we will promote the widest possible inclusion for all minorities and work for transparency so that all members are recognized for their humanity and not based on their race, creed, place of origin, sex, sexual orientation or religion. The SLD Diversity and Inclusion Committee shall conduct a top to bottom review of all policies and practices of SLD to ensure that all members are treated fairly and equally, are fairly and equally considered for leadership positions in SLD and that all voices are heard, respected and fully considered in the work of the SLD .

Communications: With our 46,000 plus members now on board, SLD represents more than twenty-five percent of the ABA membership. As we gain members each year and to remain effective in dealing with our members, it is time to establish a Communications Committee in SLD. This Committee will have four charters: 1) to engage with new members to encourage them to participate in SLD activities and to take leadership roles; 2) to communicate with all members of SLD to ensure that they are aware of the continuing work of the SLD and how they may contribute by writing, developing webinars and presentations and by participating in the activities of the SLD's 28 different committees; 3) to communicate to the rest of the ABA through our liaisons on the magnificent work of the SLD and to cross-share our experiences and resources with the rest of the ABA so that we all may benefit; and 4) to establish outreach programs to State and local bar associations which are engaged in work similar to SLD, to share resources with them and to encourage them to participate with SLD in our worthwhile efforts.

Engagement and Retention of Members: Senior Lawyers are among the most committed of all the ABA members and have been engaged in ABA activities long before they matriculated to SLD. Nonetheless, we must never lose sight of the need to make participation in SLD activities exciting, educational, fun and rewarding. Through our publications, we must strive to provide the very best content that appeals to our very diverse collection of members. We must strive to find topics of great interest and to seek out the very best authors from among our own members and elsewhere to publish erudite, thoughtful and timely articles. Our Book Board must continue its work to publish award winning tomes on the topics most important to our members and also topics that will greatly assist the American Family in dealing with family issues of asset management, senior care, dementia and social justice, among others. Experience Magazine and Voice of Experience must continue to provide interesting and helpful content that will bring our readers to look forward to the next publication.

We shall be providing webinars and presentations on a myriad of topics throughout the year with each substantive committee of SLD tasked to develop at least one if not more webinars and presentations in this year and to develop written resources that can be shared with the rest of the ABA and with State and local bar associations. In April, we are planning to conduct a Regional Town Hall that will be the Opioid Summit II, a continuation of SLD's efforts to analyze and explicate solutions to the country's opioid crisis.

Strategic Plan: Thanks to the efforts of Past Chairs Judge Louraine Arkfeld and Jack Young, the Senior Lawyers Division has developed a very ambitious Strategic Plan that will guide the Division over the next several years in its activities. The Strategic Plan is published on the SLD website and available for all members to review. We hope that you will find something in the plan that appeals to you and you will join our efforts. You can reach out to me at mvanzandt@hansonbridgett.com or to our Director, Emily Roschek at emily.roschek@americanbar.org for further information.

Thank you for being loyal members of the Senior Lawyers Division and the ABA and I look forward to seeing many of you and working with you over the coming 35th year of SLD.

Best regards,

Michael J. Van Zandt
Chair, Senior Lawyers Division 2020-21

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Michael J. Van Zandt is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. He is the current Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division; a representative for the ABA SLD to the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources Special Committee; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.