chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience Archives

Member Spotlight: David Godfrey

David M Godfrey


  • David has had a dedicated career in law and aging, transitioning from direct services to research, resource development, and training for the ABA.
  • Career Highlight: Notable achievements in adult guardianship cases, protecting constitutional rights, and dismissing unwarranted cases.
  • Advice: David encourages law students to find passion, emphasizing that passionate work has intrinsic rewards.
Member Spotlight: David Godfrey

Jump to:

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I have spent my entire career in law and aging, first in direct services at a legal aid program and then in research, resource development and training for the ABA. 

The summer between first year and second year of law school I couldn’t find a paid clerkship. I decide to get a mandatory pro-bono requirement out of the way.  I needed 30 hours of volunteer service to graduate from the University of Louisville School of Law.  I called the local public defender's office, despite having no real interest in criminal law, and the attorney in charge of interns said, “I have more interns than lawyers this summer, Jerry Smith over at legal aid is still looking for summer students.”  I called, met with Jerry, and committed to two days a week, at least until my 30 hours filled.  The attorney practicing elder law funded under the Older Americans Act took me under her wing and gave me to interesting work.  I completed 120 hours before the summer was over.  The following summer the same office hired me as a paid law clerk.  In the spring of my third year, the attorney sent me an email that read “send these people a resume so they can interview and hire you.” A few weeks later I accepted a position with the Access to Justice Foundation in Lexington Kentucky.  Over the next 9 + years I rose to managing attorney largely by attrition and we  helped an astonishing 12,000 clients. 

While I was at the Access to Justice Foundation, I started doing research and training.  There were two reasons, first, if I was speaking at a professional conference the office would pay for travel, and I love to travel, and second, I picked up outside paid consulting contracts to do training because I needed the money.  I was working at a small non-profit and the salary was “modest.” I did seven seasons for the AARP Foundation National Legal Training Project, presenting over 30 programs in 27 states.

In late 2008 the ABA Commission on Law and Aging had an opening for a senior attorney, I applied.  I interviewed on Halloween in 2008, accepted an offer a couple of weeks later and started on December 15, 2008, just as the Obama’s moved into the Hay Adams hotel a block from my office window.  I was hired to staff our role in a national support center for civil legal aid programs on aging and disability issues.  The duties have varied over the years, the constants have been research, development of resources for lawyers and other professionals in aging and presenting training.  I long ago stopped counting the number of articles I have published, and the number of workshops and webinars I have presented.  I have also been involved in several major research project on health care decision making, advance care planning, and legal issues in dementia.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

I went to law school intending to practice construction defects, planning, zoning, and land use.  Law was a second career for me, I had worked in the land development and homebuilding field for 15 years before deciding to go to law school.  The pro-bono internship that first summer of law school was a turning point.  I found work that I was passionate about.  I have no regrets, though I would have made more money working for or suing my past employers. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

When I think about the highlight, it is a couple of adult guardianship cases.  I was on the court appointment list to represent persons who were subject to a guardianship action.  In one case my client had been found unfit to stand trial on criminal charges, and the guardianship cases as riddled with allegations of crimes he couldn’t assist counsel on trying to defend.  Through motion practice and negotiation, I was able to protect my client’s constitutional rights.  Another case should never have been filed, and after three rounds of motion practice, the case was dismissed with prejudice.  Those cases meant so much to people who needed help to protect their rights. 

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

I should have pushed the Foundation to grow the program, it was always small, over worked, underfunded, and insecure.  If I had it to do over, I would diversify the funding, and make the program so important to the community that no would stand by and watch it close (it lasted a few years after I left.) 

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

My advice to law students or someone considering law school, is find what you are passionate about. Work you are passionate about has its own rewards. 

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

I have seen a huge increase in non-lawyers and non-humans doing work that was considered core legal work when I began.  The challenge is for lawyers to demonstrate the added value of working with a person with deep knowledge and experience in the field.  A machine can gather data and complete forms, the practice in the practice of law is in counseling and advice based on unintended consequences.    

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

I joined the ABA as a member of the law student division, the ABA was offering a discount on a law review course, creating value for ABA membership.  During my time with the Foundation, budgets were tight, and I suggested to the executive director that I not renew the ABA one year, and she insisted that something else could be cut, because the ABA advocated for things that were important to our work and we needed to support that.  I have always been a member. 

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

We rescued the National Aging and Law Conference (NALC.)  There has been a national conference on aging and law for decades.  At first planning it rotated between a handful of non-profit organizations, one of them being the ABA, then the AARP Foundation planned, and hosted it for a decade. When AARP’s priorities changed, NALC was co-hosted with another conference for three years. When that ended, I put together a plan, and somehow convinced the ABA to let me try.  The first year sold out the venue and had to turn people away,  We have succeeded every year, including morphing to a virtual conference in 2020 and 2021.  It has been a pleasure and an honor to continue the tradition of a national conference focusing on the legal issues that impact primarily low to moderate income older adults.  

Are there any benefits that SLD or ABA that that helped you decide to become a member of the ABA/SLD?

I joined the Senior Lawyers Division a couple of years before I would have “aged into” the Senior Lawyers Division.  SLD has given me the opportunity to work with a broad range of attorneys on issues within my core areas of interest by participating in, producing, and writing programs and publications.  Along the way I have had the pleasure of working with some incredible Members and Staff.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

If I hadn’t gone to law school, I probably would have gone back into the building business.  I miss the smell of wet drywall in the morning.