When Skills Meet Needs

A recent Stanford University-led study found that a majority of adults over the age of 50 highly value “prosocial” behaviors, actions that are positive, caring, helpful and of benefit to others. The study also found that one third of older adults exhibit a need for a purpose that is beyond themselves. This one-third equates to more than 34 million people who dedicate their time to addressing the needs of others and making the world a better place. As a benefit, those who engage in prosocial behaviors reported a more positive outlook on life and positive effects on health.

Like the Stanford’s study, Pro Bono Institute perceived the need arising for boomers to get involved in prosocial activity. Pro bono work would address unmet needs for legal representation and also be personally fulfilling and meaningful to late-career attorneys. Law firms are particularly appropriate structural allies for facilitating their experienced lawyers’ participation as they step down from full-time firm responsibilities to expanded pro bono activities, either as continuing members of the firm or as firm-supported alumni working primarily with legal services organizations.

In 2005, the Pro Bono Institute launched our Second Acts® project, an innovative initiative, in partnership with our core constituencies of major law firms, in-house legal departments, and public interest organizations, to support transitioning and retired lawyers who are interested in second volunteer careers in public interest law. Late-career attorneys have a wealth of skills, knowledge, and experience that, when utilized, can have a sizable impact on economic and social justice. Helping firms to create transition pathways and policies that fit within their institutional culture can have a variety of benefits, including improving the firm’s overall pro bono program; enhancing loyalty and firm reputation both internally and externally; offering increased mentoring, supervision, and training for junior attorneys; and providing a mechanism for balancing staffing levels and minimizing disruptions. Recently, we updated our original research about how firm’s incentivize their late-career attorneys to do pro bono work. We found that since our 2006 research, the number of firms reporting having Second Acts program® has doubled. These firms reported making a wide-range of support available to senior/transitioning attorneys to perform pro bono work.


Additionally, we found that over half of the respondents from firms without Second Acts® programs are interested in implementing such an initiative. Fifty-six percent of firms without programs indicated that such a program would increase overall pro bono performance, hours, and impact.

We recently published a tool kit, It’s Never Too Late: Boomer Lawyers and Law Firm Pro Bono, which is intended to provide general background, guidance, and inspiration. In addition to an infographic detailing our survey results, the toolkit includes the following resources:

  • Models for Participation and Practical Considerations
  • Model Policy for a Law Firm Second Acts® Program
  • Model Proposal to Firm Management for a Second Acts® Program

With adequate training and support, late-career lawyers would not only bring a major increase in pro bono capacity, but also expertise, leadership, moral support, and new perspectives that would be of great benefit. The Law Firm Pro Bono Project is available to provide tailored assistance to firms in addressing these and other questions related to Second Acts® and late-career lawyers. Please contact Elysse DeRita to schedule a confidential consultation or if you have any questions.

Has your firm or organization implemented a Second Acts® initiative to engage transitioning and retired attorneys in meaningful pro bono work? Leave a comment to share your experience.