40 Ways Retired Lawyers Can Make A Difference

07 Jun 2017
Author: Robert Precht

The Trump administration has ushered in a new age of anxiety with millions of people and our democratic institutions facing legal risks. What can retired and inactive status lawyers do to make a difference? I recently asked this question among members of the Facebook Group Lawyers for Good Government. Here are some of the answers and observations I received.

1) SG: “Serve as volunteer guardians for ‘unbefriended’ patient at hospitals.”

2) LH: "Become a volunteer mediator."

3)  GF: “I am semi retired. I am on the panel for federal death penalty habeas corpus. It does pay a bit. Central District California. I have also volunteered through Public Counsel to represent people trying to adopt foster children. There is a program too to be an advocate for foster children."

4) LG: “Retired or inactive lawyers (or anyone looking for meaningful pro bono work) can consider attending trainings given by, and joining National Veterans Legal Service Program (NVLSP)."

5) JA: “As a retiree I do not maintain malpractice insurance and do not want long, extended commitments. I work with groups that provide insurance on short term matters--pro bono custody mediations and ACLU representation of minors invoking judicial bypass provisions when they seek abortions. I also serve on the board of our local women's center which provides services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

6) DR:  “I am so hungering to work on legal issues around those in danger from Mr. Trump.”

7)  SC:  “I’m on inactive status while I'm currently a stay at home mom. Here are some of the things that I've done in the last year and a half: get appointed to serve on my county's Planning Commission, designed and taught a free four part lecture series at the library on American Government, helped the state legal aid society update their handouts/forms, done legal research for an active attorney handling pro bono matters.”

8)  JS: “Serve as court advocate for foster children."

9) PB: “Volunteer with Voting Rights Institute."

10) JF: “Run for local elected office. Serve on government boards and committees.”

11) TG: “I'm the President of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a local recipient of LSC grants. We have a typical Volunteer Lawyer Program with practicing lawyers taking a case here and there as they can and working them from their office. BUT more to your point we also have a few retired lawyers that volunteer for the program. They work much more often, have desks at our offices and malpractice insurance coverage through us. (Actually one of the retired lawyers is a former executive director of our organization.) Contact us if you are interested."

12) JS: “Good lord, so many possibilities. Personally I volunteer with the Moran Center in Evanston helping staff an expungement/sealing help desk and co-chair the Illinois State Bar judicial evaluation committee. Help desks are a good way to do things without actually taking clients, for those who don't want to do that. Others I know have taken protester cases through the National Lawyers Guild or the ACLU.”

13)  FW: “Volunteer with community refugee organizations doing immigration and naturalization work.”

14)  GL: “Many district court dockets are filled with eviction cases.  Most defendants are not represented. They need assistance.”

15) JB: “Plant seeds with law students: encourage them to make pro bono a part of their world; mentor them; speak to them about the importance of using the law for good.”

16)  WR: “Health care unions in California are extremely active in trying to push issues of healthcare justice and raise wages and living standards for not only our members but all workers (we are a founding funder of the Fairness Project and we were the driving force behind forcing Jerry Brown to sign the minimum wage increase for California by bringing it to the ballot). We need help training our staff.”

17) JC:  “When I was a stay at home mother, I volunteered in the following ways: in exchange for free CLE credit for the training I served as pro bono attorney for a crime victim who qualified for a U Visa pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act through a local immigrant right's organization, I also served on my community's liquor licensing board and assisted local non-profits with work where my analytical, writing and verbal communication skills were an asset. Prior to staying home when my kids were young, I had a period of months where I struggled to find work and so I ended up volunteering for Americorps VISTA program as it paid me a monthly stipend as well as forgave a significant portion of my student loans. I worked for the University of Connecticut Office of Public Engagement developing service learning opportunities that improved education in my community. I felt that all of these experiences were valuable professionally and made me feel that my law degree was not going to waste.”

18)  BN: “In the DC metro area, the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project welcomes non-practicing lawyer volunteers.”

19)  LM: “At the Tahirih Justice Center, we've been blessed with retired lawyers who come in 2-3 days per week (we need at least a 6 month commitment for client continuity) and provide first-chair staff attorney level representation for women and girls fleeing human rights abuses. We have one volunteer retired attorney who has been with us for 3 years under this arrangement. She is integrated into the office, participates in staff meetings, etc. Such a wonderful service!”

20)  KQ: “Mentor young law students and actually commit to their professional and personal development. As a first generation law student I am always looking for mentors who can guide me and commit to my success.”

21)  EN: “Iowa has an emeritus pro bono license that started a few years ago.”

22)  LK: “Contact your local high school and teach a class on civics. Better yet, develop a seminar on civics for high school teachers. The Western District of Washington has a great one. Justice Souter once prophetically said that the downfall of American democracy would come when enough folks had forgotten their civics - had forgotten where the levers of power were and who controls what -- and therefore would vote for a strongman who rose up and said ‘I alone can save you.’”

23) SC: “That is exactly why I designed and taught (and am teaching again) a free four part lecture series on American Government at my library! An old time lawyer once told me that lawyers are a priesthood and we have an obligation to share the knowledge with the masses.”

24)  TS: “As a younger attorney, I would love to have an opportunity to be mentored by a retired attorney. Maybe offer to second chair a newbie's first trial. Or have a weekly lunch date for brain picking.”

25)  MM: "When I was a brand new lawyer, just a few years ago, I volunteered for a Boston-area nonprofit that provides representation in family law matters for victims of domestic violence. I had a great (and essential) mentor through the program who was a seasoned divorce lawyer. Program is the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association.  I represented my client all the way through trial in her divorce, and I couldn't have done it without my mentor."

26)  CF: “So I retired 2 years ago and I have no problem keeping myself totally occupied. I was a litigator and understand how people and companies are legally effected in various ways. I provide safe, patient, caring help for dementia patients understanding my volunteering and helping families with issues. I am helping an acquaintance who has just received a patent, but had little business acumen to approach potential licensees. A retired lawyer provides legitimacy and acumen. I have been asked to serve on boards and so far have refused because I am too busy. In politics I have provided legal volunteer services to a campaign, acted in Michigan as a voting overseer, and have referred cases to other lawyers. I keep professional liability insurance to protect myself. Unfortunately after 40 years of practicing law in almost every conceivable area, I have found my experience has been of no use in learning to play golf. So far a complete failure.”

27) VP: “As a retired federal attorney, I have been volunteering part-time at a small immigration non-profit. One reason I chose to volunteer at this non-profit is that it covers me for malpractice insurance purposes. Although my background was not in immigration law, I have been able to learn a great deal of law in this area. I began by screening potential clients for naturalization and completing their naturalization applications. The non-profit's attorneys have been a great resource in reviewing my work in areas new to me and in providing assistance when I request it. Recently I have branched out to other areas of immigration law. Taking on a new area of law as a retiree is a wonderful opportunity to grow intellectually while providing needed legal assistance to members of the public. Finally, it is hard to ignore the wonderful connection an attorney can experience with those he or she helps directly.”

28) K: “I took a 2 day course on grant writing and realized the skills were nearly identical to answering interrogatories. (I am a retired litigator.) I now volunteer my services assisting non-profit organizations in applying for grants. While many larger organizations have full-time grant writers on staff, smaller nonprofits can use volunteer help in this area.”

29) MH: “Run for office! In Wisconsin only about 5-10% of our legislators are lawyers. From testifying before them, I can tell you they do not understand the current laws much less how proposed changes will affect current law. Also, as an elder law attorney we need smart, kind people (who understand a fiduciary duty) to serve as guardians for people who do not have relatives or friends who can serve.”

30) SH: "The American Immigration Lawyers Association is starting an initiative called the Justice Campaign to train non-immigration lawyers to handle pro bono immigration cases. The training will be supplemented by mentoring and case assistance. This is a great opportunity for retired attorneys from other practice areas. For more information, contact Susan Timmons Marks, Associate Director, Practice & Professionalism, Email: smarks@aila.org."

31) MD: “I retired last year. I volunteer with the Literacy Committee of the local bar association and also volunteer for pro bono mediations through the local bar. My retired lawyer friends are on nonprofit boards and one does work for a trade association.”

32) MG: “I spent over 30 years working as a fiduciary in a bank, all the while keeping up my law license. I retired 2 years ago and now work 3 days a week practicing law and the other two days, I volunteer. I spend one morning a month at a help desk for pro se petitioners for guardianship of minors, and I am on the roster of a legal services agency. I have participated in clinics that help elders with Powers of Attorney and helped with a couple of immigration cases through an agency. Though my legal volunteerism is eclectic, it is quite rewarding.”

33) RD: “I volunteer for Literacy Volunteers of America. It allows me to use my language abilities to help people, but also my knowledge of American culture, law, etc. In effect, I teach about American civilization so it is a very broad canvas.”

34) SG: "One model you might want to look at is Senior Partners for Justice, a nonprofit set up under the Boston Bar Association."

35): “So many high school students who may be aspiring first generation college students need to know of possibilities - law as a career that can be so much more than the courtroom dramas they see on t.v. - They can make policy, become legislators, etc. Go and talk to them and let them have more things to dream about and aspire to."

36) JB: “Almost every environmental or animal welfare nonprofit would take legal  help with regulatory advocacy pro bono. Volunteer to write public comments on federal rule changes; draft petitions for review or for rulemaking asking for regulatory changes”

37) AU: “Helping trans folks change name and gender marker on legal docs and identification. Can find details on various organization's name change project websites.”

38) SP: "I run an agency in the Chicagoland area that does exactly this: Pro Bono Network. Please contact us."

39): "Help criminal defendants get their records expunged, by guiding them thru the process as they appear pro per (pro se). Help them fill out the paperwork and get the case on calendar and notice the people."

40) TC: “I hope that every "retired" lawyer gets "unretired" and gets back in the game. As long as your brain is still functioning, you have experience that new lawyers need and cannot buy. How many cruises and trips can you take? It's a known fact that retirement shortens your life. Get back into action and do something meaningful and praiseworthy for your fellow human beings. These are desperate times and we need every lawyer we can get.”