Allen Snyder, Co-recipient of Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year, Speaks on What Inspired Him to Volunteer as Special Counsel with the Children's Law Center

By District of Columbia Bar

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Allen Snyder is a volunteer special counsel with the Children’s Law Center (CLC), dedicating all of his time to pro bono service. He completed 1,000 hours of pro bono work in both 2012 and 2013. Before joining CLC, Snyder had a 30-year career as a litigator with Hogan Lovells (previously Hogan & Hartson LLP). After retiring in 2002, he joined CLC as special counsel to develop and guide the organization’s general appellate practice, particularly to create and implement a long-term appellate strategy for key issues of concern arising from abuse and neglect, adoption, custody, and special education cases.

 DCBV: You’ve had over 40 years of incredibly successful practice since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1971. You were a Supreme Court clerk, partner at Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) and are now volunteer special counsel with the Children’s Law Center. Share a few of your favorite highlights from your long legal career.

AS: I was very lucky to have so many fascinating cases over the years. The cases I felt the best about were the Supreme Court and other cases I handled on Civil Rights and First Amendment issues, where I felt our efforts really made a difference to a lot of people. Unusual, fun cases included representing the House Ethics Committee in prosecuting Congressmen caught up in the Abscam sting, and representing Elizabeth Taylor in enjoining ABC from producing a docudrama about her life. 

In many ways, though, the work I look back on with the most pride was my time as Chair of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BPR), the Court of Appeals-appointed body that administers (and handles adjudications, subject to Court of Appeals review,  in) the D.C. attorney discipline system. As Chair of the Board, and when working on its appellate opinions, I tried hard not only to administer due process and justice to the accused attorneys, but also to recognize the BPR's role in protecting the "consumers" of legal services, the clients who were allegedly wronged.

We managed to substantially speed up the notoriously slow adjudication process, and to achieve what our Board considered a better balance between the rights of the accused attorneys and the rights and legitimate needs of the affected clients and the judicial system.

DCBV: What inspired you to begin volunteering as special counsel with the Children’s Law Center in 2011?

AS: When my wife and I retired, we planned to travel and do a number of things our busy careers had never allowed us to do, but we also wanted to do some community service, working directly with children or families in need. We began serving as temporary foster parents for the Montgomery County court system and over a period of a few years had 15 foster kids for varying (but usually short) periods of time.

To our surprise (but ultimately great joy), we fell in love with our last foster child, who arrived in our home at age 2 months, and whom we ultimately adopted (she’s 9 years old now, and wonderful!). Through that foster and adoptive parenting experience, I learned a fair amount about the abuse and neglect judicial system, and started forming opinions on ways it could be improved. Some of those opinions, which I mentioned to friends, got to the ear of Judith Sandalow, the Executive Director of Children’s Law Center (CLC). Judith asked me to start a new appellate section at CLC. Since my daughter had recently started school, which freed up a lot of my time, I happily agreed.

DCBV: What is your role as special counsel for CLC?

AS: I head up a group of terrific appellate lawyers and a paralegal who mentor and assist other CLC attorneys on appeals of the cases they handled in Superior Court (most often as Guardians ad Litem representing the child’s best interests), and who handle on our own appellate cases that are particularly complex or raise broad, systemic issues of importance to children’s rights generally.

DCBV: What was the most rewarding pro bono experience you have had so far in your career? Do you have a most memorable client or matter, or any one client or matter that sticks with you?

AS: In one of the first cases I worked on at Hogan, John Ferren and I obtained an injunction against the Nixon Administration’s efforts to dismantle the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO, a key part of Johnson’s War on Poverty) by “impounding” Congressionally appropriated funds for OEO. The case raised interesting legal issues, moved fast (over in several weeks), and saved a lot of anti-poverty programs. Felt pretty good for a 26-year-old to be involved in!

DCBV: Having experienced firsthand (and quite successfully) both private law firm practice and practice within the D.C. legal services community, what advice can you share with law firms that wish to expand their pro bono programs or collaborate with the legal services community?

AS: There is tremendous unmet need for attorneys’ assistance in a wide variety of areas. Many law firms are doing a great job of allowing/encouraging their attorneys to work in this area, but much more needs to be done. In addition to firm help, I have learned from my own experience that it is so much easier for a retired attorney to do pro bono work than it ever was when engaged in an active, full-time practice.

I spend well over 1000 hours a year at CLC working with wonderful people who care deeply about issues that are intellectually interesting and very important to me, and yet it is quite easy to find the time to do this now that I am retired. Many other senior attorneys who are contemplating retirement – and possibly wondering whether they would find enough interesting, fulfilling things to do if they retire – would undoubtedly find similar satisfaction if they found an organization or cause that was meaningful to them.

D.C. is awash in think tanks, foundations, legal services organizations and other groups on almost every issue of public importance – a senior attorney’s experience could be valuable to them and mutually rewarding.