Pro Bono in Your Second Act

retirementThe legal profession is at an extraordinary demographic crossroads, with vast numbers of baby-boom attorneys facing career transitions. This wave of lawyers nearing retirement offers enormous opportunity and capacity to deliver desperately needed legal services to low-income and underserved populations.

PBI’s Second Acts® initiative pioneered efforts to support transitioning and retired lawyers interested in second, volunteer careers in public interest law by identifying and implementing a range of workable models within law firms, legal departments, and public interest organizations that take advantage of the skills and expertise of these lawyers. Second Acts programs can help transition attorneys to retirement, ensure continuity, provide training and mentoring to young attorneys, and help firms and legal departments meet their pro bono goals. Although the economic downturn had a significant impact on the profession and made it a difficult time to vigorously pursue such programs, “encore” careers are once again gaining steam. The following are inspiring examples of “second act” initiatives that are seizing this unique opportunity:

• In 2012, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission created the Access to Justice Fellow Program, which pairs senior lawyers with nonprofit and legal services organizations to provide critical legal assistance to underserved individuals and community and public interest groups. For one academic year, fellows commit 10 to 20 hours per week to individual pro bono projects. Currently, Fellows are working with organizations such as Shelter Legal Services, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Community Legal Services and Counseling Center of Cambridge, MA to tackle complex issues such as veteran homelessness and immigration. Fellows receive extensive support from the program and training from the nonprofit organizations with which they are working. The program now operates as a project of the Access to Justice Commission, in partnership with Lawyers Clearinghouse, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo*†, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

• The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program, the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, and 11 participating law firms (all of which are Member Firms and/or Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatories) launched the Senior Attorneys Initiative for Legal Services (SAILS) Project in 2010. The Project asks participating firms to implement programs to enable their senior attorneys to devote time to pro bono efforts as a focus of the next phase of their careers. One such program is Arent Fox’s*† DC SAILS Pro Bono Project for Veterans, which, among other things, provides homeless and low-income veterans with legal help, such as representation in disability appeals matters and assistance with housing issues.

Along these lines, The PBEye was delighted to learn that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s newly-created justice AmeriCorps, a strategic partnership to enhance adjudication of immigration proceedings involving unaccompanied children, explicitly seeks to engage experienced attorneys and paralegals over the age of 55. We are always excited to discover new “second act” pro bono opportunities for senior and transitioning lawyers and are available to assist with the development and implementation of new programs.

As they age, baby-boom attorneys can have a transformative impact on the administration of justice and the nature of civic engagement. If only a small percent transition to the practice of public interest law on reaching traditional “retirement,” the number of lawyers available to meet the needs of the poor, disadvantaged, and the community groups that serve them will significantly increase. Working together we can broaden and institutionalize these opportunities and exponentially increase the provision of legal services to those most in need.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project