Now in Legal Rebels:
Posted Apr 01, 2007 12:34 pm CDT
Retirement used to be life’s denouement just before that final final scene. But with baby boomers retiring ever earlier, retirement has become synonymous with having the freedom to find something more fulfilling to do. And for an increasing number of retired lawyers and judges, retirement means having the freedom to use their legal training to serve the public good as pro bono volunteers.
ABA President Karen J. Mathis would like to see greater numbers of retiring lawyers emulate these volunteers. Mathis launched an initiative called Second Season of Service that aims to coax retiring attorneys into sharing their legal talents on a volunteer basis. One of her first initiatives when she became ABA president in August 2006 was to appoint a commission to establish an “Atticus network” linking retired lawyers to volunteer opportunities. The network is named after Atticus Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The commission’s honorary chair is Judith Kaye, chief judge of the state of New York. Co-chairs include Maury Poscover of St. Louis, William Hubbard of Columbia, S.C., and Vincent Polley of Detroit.
In August, the ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution calling on states to revamp their ethics rules and bar dues formulas to facilitate retired lawyers providing pro bono services through recognized nonprofits. It also calls for nonprofits or bar groups to offer malpractice insurance to retired volunteer lawyers.
Still, some haven’t waited for any official action. The following are just three of the retirees who have given their time and experience in service of society’s greater good–and their profession’s.
Patrick McGraw, 64
Home base: Cleveland
Previous career: securities lawyer, civil rights prosecutor, supervising lawyer for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission
Recent activities: Spends up to 20 hours a week helping homeless women with their legal problems
It makes him feel more “authentic,” says Patrick McGraw of Cleveland, to volunteer his time providing legal services to homeless women. “I feel like a real lawyer for the first time in 40 years,” he says. “I feel like this is why I went to law school.”
McGraw, 64, held several jobs during his paid legal career: securities lawyer for a large Toledo firm, civil rights prosecutor for the Ohio attorney general, and supervising lawyer for the state’s Civil Rights Commission in Cleveland before his retirement in 2003. Since retiring, he spends from five to 20 hours a week helping homeless women with legal problems, such as seeking the return of their personal property after an eviction or applying for public benefits like Social Security disability assistance.
Most surprising about his volunteer work, McGraw says, is the emotional reward. “I was amazed to discover how satisfying it can be to work with people who are not used to having anyone pay attention to their needs. They are so grateful and they express that,” he says. “Not to be corny, but it’s really quite moving.”
McGraw says much of the criticism of the legal profession and many of society’s ills could be alleviated if lawyers would simply change their perspective. “It’s not really that we have too many lawyers in this country,” McGraw says. “The problem is we have a lot of people who are underrepresented and a lot of people who are overrepresented because of the way that money determines who gets a lawyer.
“If the object is to deliver justice, that model is dysfunctional. So the only remedy I have is to give of my time to the underrepresented,” he says.
And for those who worry about getting “too involved” in the sad stories of clients, McGraw says it’s all about setting boundaries. For his clients he has a separate phone that he answers when he chooses to be available. Clients’ cases can present tough issues, he says, but knowing he has the power to help alleviate some of their problems gives him satisfaction.
“All I can say is try it,” he says. “You might be surprised at just how gratifying it is.” McGraw gets another form of satisfaction from volunteer work: freedom to represent the client without worrying about office politics.
“I’m so much more willing to be a maverick now. … I can just do what’s best for my client and not worry about consequences. That’s so freeing,” says McGraw. But for McGraw, the real reward is the feeling that he’s using his legal talents for good. “I am prouder of this work than anything I ever did when I got paid.”
Judge Evelyn Lance, 72
Home base: Honolulu
Previous career: family court judge
Recent activities: Rule of law specialist for CEELI, helping Macedonia implement judicial systems; also served in Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Morocco and Oman
Former Judge Evelyn Lance of the Hawaii Family Court has been a volunteer for the ABA Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative since 1999. She retired from the bench in 1995 after 15 years and began volunteering for various nonprofit boards. Now 72, she is also part of a volunteer appellate mediation board and sits on the state’s lawyer disciplinary committee.
In August 1999 she traveled to Macedonia as a rule of law specialist for CEELI, where she spent a year helping authorities in the fledgling republic design and implement a sustainable judicial system. In addition to “cheerleading,” she planned curriculum for law schools and judicial training schools, helped plan a legal system that recognized civil rights, and fleshed out procedural systems for civil and criminal cases. She is particularly proud of helping judges in Macedonia work toward passage of a law that allowed the judiciary to develop and submit its own budget proposal to the legislature and to administer funds that were eventually allocated independent of oversight by the country’s executive branch.
“A lot of developing countries don’t have an underlying culture of separation of powers. It takes work to get everybody to understand the value of an independent judiciary,” she says.
Since her year in Macedonia, Lance has also spent shorter sojourns in Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. Recently, working with the ABA’s Asia Law Initiative, she spent a few weeks in the Philippines. Lance finds fulfillment in teaching lawyers and judges to think about issues of public policy and to recognize a common goal of providing better service to the public. She also derives pleasure from learning about people of other cultures and how they view the role of law in their societies.
“I learned an incredible amount about the many conventions that most of the world honors,” she says, including documents regarding judicial independence. Lance recognizes that some lawyers don’t do volunteer legal work because they believe that it somehow devalues the paid work they did during their careers. Such excuses infuriate her.
“I really feel a great deal of anger at the people who claim they should not volunteer because it belittles their work,” she says. “I feel strongly that this is so wrong.”
Home base: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Previous career: 50 years in the law department at a large oil company
Now fully retired, but volunteered at legal aid offices in Colorado and Florida for a decade
W.A. Masters of Colorado Springs, Colo., knows just what McGraw means about doing his small part as a volunteer. Masters retired in 1993 after 50 years in the law department at a large oil company. He spent most of the next decade volunteering at legal aid offices in Colorado and Florida, where he lived for a few years. He did guardianships, adoptions, child custody and similar cases a few hours each week.
Now 90 years old, Masters no longer volunteers for health reasons, but he is still an advocate.
“Why volunteer? I believe in volunteering. Besides, I needed something useful to do with myself,” he says with a laugh. Noting that most of his clients were younger than he was, Masters says he enjoyed knowing that they needed him.
Masters speaks glowingly of the satisfaction he got from helping people in dire straits.
“There was this man who almost froze to death sleeping in his car. He had some mental health issues. I helped him get into assisted living and get some medical help. Once he improved, they were able to move his wife, who was in a different assisted living place, to be with him. He was so happy,” Masters says.
“Why legal services? Practicing law is my life. I couldn’t imagine not doing it. My great satisfaction was helping individuals with their problems,” he says. “I hate very much that I’m not doing anything now.”
To those who believe their legal expertise is in the “wrong” area of law for volunteering, Masters and McGraw say lawyers would be surprised at how quickly they can pick up the nuances of new legal niches. And, they note, many nonprofits provide supervision and assistance from full-time staffers.
“In private practice, we are so used to being paid enormous amounts of money to work a thing to death,” McGraw says, “but in volunteer work, you learn that anything you can provide is better than nothing, and nothing is what they’ll have if you don’t help.” W.A. Masters, 90