- About the Senior Lawyer Public Interest Project
- How to Get Started
- Interested in Serving on a Nonprofit Board?
- Join the Senior Lawyer Community
- Additional Resources
- Role Models
About the Senior Lawyer Public Interest Project
The Senior Lawyer Public Interest Project is a public service initiative of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program to encourage and facilitate experienced senior lawyers to contribute their time and expertise either to nonprofit legal service providers in DC or to provide pro bono legal services directly to clients in need.
How to Get Started
Have you ever thought of dedicating your time to public service work? Some ways in which you can start include:
- Approaching your firm for a work arrangement.
- Finding an organization or cause that appeals to you.
- Working with an existing organization to develop a new, meaningful project.
- Developing a project or projects on your own.
Approaching Your Firm
In an informal survey conducted by the Senior Lawyer Project,
leading law firms in the District were overwhelmingly favorable
to having ad hoc arrangements with senior lawyers that would allow
them to devote all or a significant portion of their time to public
interest work. In fact, many firms already have special arrangements
with senior lawyers who have decided to work part time.
In most cases, you should be able to reach an agreement with your firm that will allow you to pursue your interest in pro bono work. Before approaching your firm, consider some key points:
- Compensation: How will your compensation be affected if you undertake a significant amount of public interest legal work?
- Client workload: What expectation does the firm have of you with respect to client chargeable hours and maintaining client relationships?
- Use of office, computer equipment, and staff: Will the firm continue to provide administrative support and services?
- Health insurance and other benefits: Can you continue to participate in health, life, and disability insurance programs, and, if so, will it require payment changes?
- Participation in retirement plans: Can you continue to participate in the firm’s retirement plans (funded and unfunded) and what will the tax impacts (if any) of such participation be?
- Malpractice insurance: Will you continue to be covered by the firm’s malpractice insurance policy?
- Status: Will you retain your position as a partner and be able to participate in firm activities, such as attending partner meetings and voting on partnership matters?
- Pro Bono Program: Will you be able to work with the firm’s pro bono program to secure associate and paralegal assistance on your public interest legal work?
Projects at Local Organizations
You may want to offer your services to local nonprofit legal service
providers by contacting them directly. Our topically indexed directory
of legal assistance programs can help you figure out which
organizations are doing the type of work that most interests you.
The following nonprofit legal services organizations have indicated interest in creating special volunteer positions and projects for senior lawyers who would like to use their legal expertise to promote the public good.
AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE)
Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), an affiliate of AARP, has, since its inception in 1975, pioneered the use of senior attorney volunteers throughout its work. LCE is the primary provider of legal services to low and moderate income older people in the District of Columbia. In-house senior attorneys, working along side staff attorneys, handle a large array of civil legal matters from the simple to the complex, and also engage in activities such as community education and outreach, client interviewing, document drafting, and legal research. LCE utilizes a legal advice line, a brief services unit, a staff attorney program, and a pro bono project to deliver legal services to low and moderate income older people.
History and Background: LCE opened its doors in 1975 with a cadre of senior volunteer attorneys and has utilized this model of service delivery ever since. LCE’s office orientation is geared toward accommodating volunteers especially volunteer attorneys. LCE has a large number of publications for back-up support as well as an experienced attorney staff who provide assistance, supervision and co-counseling. LCE, together with the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, wrote the first resource manual for senior attorney volunteers (1994) for nationwide use, the second edition of which will be published shortly. LCE’s Director serves on the ABA’s Second Season of Service Commission, an organized nationwide effort to encourage volunteer efforts by senior attorneys.
Substantive areas: LCE handles cases in most civil legal areas with an emphasis on protective services (e.g., guardianships), housing (e.g., landlord/tenant), consumer (e.g., predatory lending, home repair fraud), public benefits (e.g., social security), and wills and probate. LCE is also the Long-term care ombudsman for the District of Columbia and utilizes volunteers in a variety of legal matters in this area as well.
Volunteer opportunities: LCE provides multiple opportunities for senior attorneys. Every effort is made to match the experience, qualifications and interest of the attorneys to the most suitable LCE project. For more information, contact Shirley Williams, LCE Volunteer Lawyers project administrator, 202-434-2129.
The American Diabetes Association
The American Diabetes Association is the nation's leading nonprofit health organization providing diabetes research, information and advocacy. Founded in 1940, ADA conducts programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, reaching hundreds of communities. The mission of the ADA is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.
To fulfill this mission, ADA funds research, publishes scientific findings, provides information and other services to people with diabetes, their families, health professionals and the public. The ADA is also actively involved in advocating for the rights of people with diabetes.
ADA receives hundreds of calls and letters each month from people who want to understand their legal rights. The calls involve topics such as employment, education, incarceration, police brutality, places of public accommodation (including public transportation, restaurants, and concerts), family law, and licensing. Individuals who feel they are currently experiencing discrimination are directed to ADA’s Legal Advocate who provides case-specific information and resources. The goal is to empower those who are experiencing discrimination by giving them the means to educate decision-makers and, when that doesn’t work, the tools to negotiate resolutions or to pursue litigation. These tools include understanding one’s rights; knowing how to effectively utilize elected officials, media, and grassroots organizing to counter discrimination; and having access to lawyers and health care professionals.
In addition, to meet the needs of these individuals, ADA has developed a network of attorneys who are willing to work on litigation. The ADA Advocacy Attorney Network consists of over 500 lawyers who have agreed to work on diabetes discrimination matters pro bono. As part of this effort, ADA has developed an on-line materials bank to train lawyers and to provide litigation resources.
ADA also appears as amicus curiae in important diabetes cases, usually at the appellate level. Occasionally, ADA brings its own litigation. For example, ADA was a plaintiff in Rosen v. City of Philadelphia, a class action involving the mistreatment of people with diabetes in police custody. More recently, ADA was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the California Department of Education and two public school districts in the state involving the rights of students with diabetes in California public schools.
In addition to direct litigation, ADA assists private and governmental lawyers around the country who are working on individual or class discrimination cases. ADA advises lawyers, edits briefs, and develops legal arguments, particularly with respect to those issues that require expertise in both discrimination law and the disease of diabetes.
ADA is seeking senior lawyers who are interested in:
Casehandling: Senior lawyers could assist ADA by taking on individual discrimination cases, with the support of ADA. Opportunities may also be available for senior lawyers to work on appellate cases
Intake: Senior lawyers who could commit to conducting intake on a regular basis could assist in client intake and case evaluation. This would provide a significant service to our client community.
Public Policy Work: ADA undertakes public policy projects that support our individual casework in the areas of discrimination. Opportunities may be available for senior lawyers to work on these projects.
Pro Bono Mentoring: ADA’s Legal Advocacy Program connects volunteer attorneys with individuals and families in need of legal representation. Experienced senior lawyers could play an important role in helping to mentor volunteer attorneys who accept pro bono cases referred by ADA.
Senior lawyers interested in learning more about opportunities with the American Diabetes Association should contact Katie Hathaway at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 549-1500 ext. 1694.
Ayuda, Inc. is seeking pro bono attorneys to represent unaccompanied immigrant children through its Children’s Project. Ayuda, Inc. exists to advocate for and defend the legal and human rights of low-income Latino and other immigrant communities in the Washington, DC area. The Children’s Project of Ayuda, Inc. is the only local organization that systematically provides immigration legal advice, consultation, and representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, and which conducts outreach and advocacy on their behalf. Due to their vulnerable status, many of these children are entitled to apply for immigration benefits such as asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, VAWA, and U-Visas. Although Ayuda served over 50 unaccompanied children in 2005, the demand for services far exceeds our current capacity. Thus, Ayuda, Inc. seeks volunteers to assist in providing legal advice and representation in cases before DC, Maryland, and Virginia family courts, as well as area immigration courts. To volunteer to represent an unaccompanied immigrant child or obtain additional information, please contact Christina Wilkes at email@example.com or 202-387-4848, ext. 115.
The Children’s Law Center
The Children’s Law Center (CLC) is a growing legal services organization that provides high quality representation to individual children and caregivers in neglect, adoption, special education, and related matters. Our talented young lawyers are eager to work with a senior lawyer in order to expand CLC’s capacity to include impact litigation. A senior lawyer would play a central role in developing the program and would co-counsel cases with CLC staff attorneys and with lawyers from area law firms. Issues that have come up recently include: (1) a violation of D.C. human rights laws by a group home that required a gay teen foster child to seek counseling from a priest; (2) group and foster homes that punish foster children by refusing to let them visit their parents and siblings in violation of DC law; and (3) a challenge to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC, a law that keeps neglected children in institutions for months rather than letting them go to grandparents and other relatives, just because the relatives live in Maryland. Senior lawyers interested in working on these issues, or on other issues that affect children and caregivers, should contact Judith Sandalow, executive director, at 202-467-4900, ext. 511.
The D.C. Employment Justice Center
The D.C. Employment Justice Center (EJC) is a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to secure, protect, and promote, workplace justice in the DC metropolitan area. We combine legal services, community education, organizing, and advocacy work to achieve justice for low-wage workers. There are a number of important ways that retired, semiretired, about-to-be retired, and senior attorneys can contribute to the EJC. Experience and/or expertise in employment law is, of course, a bonus, but not at all necessary. Most of the issues we deal with for our clients are pretty basic so the learning curve is not steep. And for the more novel issues, employment law is still a subject that is relatively easy to learn, so do not let experience be a barrier!
Our options are many and varied:
- Take on a pro bono case or mentor associates who take on wage and hour cases, workers’ compensation cases, and any other type of matter they find interesting. You could even supervise a specialty practice within your firm. We see about a dozen cases of unpaid wages each week and these are incredibly important, but also very discrete matters. A firm that specializes in these cases could literally recover hundreds of thousands of dollars for low-income workers each year.
- Write or supervise the writing of appellate briefs or amicus briefs. They can be briefs on well-settled matters, or ones that work to expand the law and employment protections for workers.
- Experienced employment attorneys, and those who are willing to learn employment law, could help staff our weekly Workers’ Rights Clinics.
We’re also open to discussion with interested attorneys to explore other options. If you are interested, please contact Judy Conti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) fills a vacuum in legal advocacy for victims of abuse by providing expert pro bono representation for appeals; trainings to judges, lawyers, other professionals and litigants; and serving as a technical assistance provider to lawyers and litigants in DC and around the country. DV LEAP is a partnership of the GW Law School, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and a network of law firms providing pro bono representation. Founded by a longstanding local domestic violence lawyer, teacher, and activist, DV LEAP partners with pro bono lawyers in participating law firms to litigate its appeals on domestic violence appeals in D.C. and around the country. DV LEAP’s most notable recent accomplishment was spearheading (in collaboration with the three other offices) the sole domestic violence amicus brief in Davis v Washington, with evident impact on the Court’s decision regarding confrontation rights in domestic violence prosecutions. Senior Pro Bono volunteers with expertise in domestic violence, appellate litigation, and/or custody litigation, would be most welcome. For more information, please contact Joan Meier at email@example.com.
The Landlord Tenant Resource Center
The Landlord Tenant Resource Center (LTRC) provides legal information and assistance to residential pro se litigants—both landlords and tenants—in landlord and tenant matters in the District of Columbia. Each year, landlords file over 45,000 cases in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia seeking summary eviction of tenants. Most cases allege nonpayment of rent as the reason for the action. Over 99 percent of the tenants sued in landlord and tenant court are not represented by counsel, and nearly 14 percent of landlords are not represented. Regardless of the facts and merits of their cases, unrepresented tenants face a high risk of having judgments entered against them, while inexperienced pro se landlords risk having their cases dismissed, often because of procedural missteps. The services provided by the LTRC include helping pro se litigants understand court proceedings and their options, and assisting litigants with completing pro se pleadings. Currently, the center is staffed on a rotating basis by nine major law firms. The volunteer lawyers and legal assistants have varying degrees of expertise with housing matters. Although a DC Bar Pro Bono Program staff attorney is onsite during center hours, the services of a senior lawyer are greatly needed to provide consistent mentoring and support of the volunteers, and to help fulfill the ever-expanding needs of pro se litigants in landlord and tenant court (e.g., drafting additional pro se pleadings, preparing informational brochures, etc.). The center is open every day the Court is in session from 9:15 a.m. until about 1 p.m. For more information, contact Mark Herzog, assistant director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program, at 202-737-4700, ext. 3206.
The Legal Aid Society of D.C.
The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia was formed in 1932 to “provide legal aid and counsel to indigent persons in civil law matters and to encourage measures by which the law may better protect and serve their needs.” Legal Aid is interested in exploring opportunities for senior lawyers to help maximize our resources in the following ways:
Senior lawyers interested in learning more about opportunities with the Legal Aid Society should contact Jodi Feldman, director of Pro Bono and Intake Programs, at 202-661-5965.
The Probate Resource Center
In an effort to serve the broadest possible number of low-income residents with probate matters, the DC Bar Pro Bono Program operates the Probate Resource Center to provide free legal services to unrepresented parties or potential parties in the Probate Division of DC Superior Court. The Probate Resource Center represents a continuum of services currently offered by the Pro Bono Program’s Advice & Referral Clinics, with the capacity to provide customers with an extended level of analysis, advice and brief services. Volunteer attorneys are not expected to retain clients served through the Resource Center. Volunteers should have experience in estate administration.
The Resource Center focuses on estate administration by providing
the following services:
1. Interview and counsel the customer as to the specific information s/he will have to gather in order to proceed with the probate process.
2. Work with the customer to prepare the Petition for Probate and related documents, whether for Small Estate Administration or regular administration, and to prepare the Inventory and Accountings.
3. Help the customer understand how the property should be distributed to the beneficiaries.
4. Help the customer with the transfer of property to the beneficiaries to the extent possible through brief service, if the customer is the personal representative.
Attorneys interested in volunteering for the Probate Resource Center should call 202-737-4700 ext. 3295.
University Legal Services
University Legal Services (ULS) is the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency for the District of Columbia. Each state and territory has a designated P&A whose purpose is to pursue legal, administrative, and other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of the rights of people with disabilities. Congress mandated the creation of the P&A system given the shocking conditions under which people with disabilities were surviving. As the P&A, ULS has the authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect, seclusion and restraint, and has sweeping access to both private and public facilities in which people with disabilities live or receive services, and to the records of those seeking our services.
ULS handles matters related to the care and treatment of people with mental retardation, and other developmental disabilities, to issues of concern to people with mental illness, children with disabilities seeking to fulfill their educational goals, accessible housing, employment, voter’s rights, and to those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury.ULS seeks volunteers (preferably attorneys who still have a relationship with their law firm) who can provide legal representation to our clients, devote time to class action litigation, and assist with costs associated with such. For further information, please contact Jane Brown at 202-547-0198.
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs is a private nonprofit organization with a mission to provide pro bono legal services and assistance, using the resources of volunteer lawyers and law firms, to address discrimination and poverty in the Washington, DC, region. The Committee’s staff coordinates these activities in six project areas: equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, fair housing, public education, immigrant and refugee rights, and disability rights.
The committee established its first senior lawyer position with an experienced attorney on staff in 1993. Currently, the committee employs several senior lawyers with the equal employment opportunity, fair housing, and public accommodations projects. All but one of the senior lawyers work onsite at the committee’s offices. The committee is considering additional options for employing senior lawyers offsite, including senior lawyers who can work with the committee while remaining resident at their law firm offices. For more information, contact Rod Boggs, executive director, at 202-319-1000.
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless was founded in 1986 to overcome the barriers that prevent people struggling with homelessness from accessing the community’s traditional legal service programs. Our mission is to use law and advocacy to end the unnecessary suffering caused by poverty and homelessness and advocate for justice for people in the District of Columbia who are homeless or at risk of becoming so.
Although we often have discrete litigation or policy projects that could benefit from the assistance of a senior lawyer, ongoing projects include:
Site Adoption Program: Senior lawyers can be a valuable resource by organizing their firm to adopt one of our nine intake sites in the District. Our intake sites are located at local shelters, day programs, and soup kitchens. Senior lawyers can assist in this program by recruiting and coordinating attorneys and paralegals from their firm to staff one of these sites on a regular schedule to assist homeless or low-income clients in overcoming their legal obstacles. Legal Clinic staff would provide training.
Summer Associate Program: Senior lawyers can participate in our Summer Associate Program where summer associates from local law firms receive training by the Legal Clinic and take on client cases through our intake program. Senior lawyers would supervise their firms’ summer associates as well as give their experienced guidance throughout the process.
Senior Lawyers interested in working with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless on these or other issues can contact our coordinator of volunteers, Laura Markle at 202-328-5254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services Program
Since 1986, the Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services Program (WWCLSP) has provided pro bono legal advice and representation to thousands of persons living with HIV/AIDS throughout the Washington metropolitan area. We are an eight-person legal services office in a larger medical, behavioral, and social services agency serving people with HIV/AIDS, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community, in the Washington metropolitan area. Staff lawyers handle a variety of cases in-house; investigate and conduct preliminary assessments of new cases; and work closely with more than 150 pro bono volunteer attorneys and paralegals. Our primary areas of practice are: Social Security disability, Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal, state, and local public benefits programs; employment, public accommodations and housing discrimination; health, disability, and life insurance; immigration; wills, powers of attorney, and advance health care directives; medical confidentiality; and certain debt issues. Our principal mission is to serve persons living with HIV/AIDS regardless of sexual orientation or gender, but we also provide some services to HIV-negative clients in the following areas: relief under the immigration laws for foreign nationals facing persecution in their countries of origin because of sexual orientation or gender identity or presentation; discrimination based on transgender status or sexual orientation; wills, powers of attorney, and advance health care directives for lower-income GLBT individuals and couples; and health insurance and disability-related issues faced by HIV-negative clients of Whitman-Walker Clinic who also have other serious health problems.
Senior lawyers could greatly enhance our program by committing to conduct intake of new clients on a regular basis, and performing follow-up investigation and preliminary analysis of new cases; handling a limited caseload in one or more of our practice areas; working with senior staff attorneys on specific public policy/advocacy projects; and/or serving as mentors to volunteers in one or more of our practice areas. Senior lawyers who are proficient in Spanish or other languages could also provide valuable services to our clients facing language barriers.Back to Top
Developing Your Own Project
Some lawyers may prefer the flexibility and freedom of doing pro
bono projects on their own, outside the structure of a particular
legal service provider. In such cases the possibilities are infinite.
If this approach appeals to you, you may still need to have some
contact with organizations that provide legal services in your areas
of interest. Such organizations, for example, are sometimes a good
source for challenging cases and for training and advice.
Some points to consider when planning your project are:
- What is your objective?
- Do you need additional training in a particular area, legal or nonlegal?
- What organizations and resources are available for guidance and support?
- Do you need help in finding cases or projects in which you can have the greatest impact?
- Would the project you wish to undertake complement the work already being done by one or more nonprofit legal services organizations?
Interested in Serving on a Nonprofit Board?
The DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s Community Economic Development Project provides pro bono assistance to a number of the District’s nonprofit organizations. Many of them are looking for qualified individuals to serve on their Board of Directors. As an experienced lawyer, you are in a unique position to help.
The Internal Revenue Service is putting a greater emphasis on nonprofit governance. It is asking tax exempt entities to follow many of the best practices for corporate governance. Therefore, it is more important than ever for a nonprofit organization to recruit directors who have the skills to help the Board meet its fiduciary obligations, as well as the business judgment and experience to help the nonprofit operate effectively. And if the organization needs legal assisatnce, the CED Project will be there to help.
If you are interested in being matched with a nonprofit organization, please contact Regina Hopkins, associate director for community economic development, at 202-737-4700, ext. 3376.
Join the Senior Lawyer Community
Still wondering about how you can transition public service work into your career? Check the additional resources below, or read about senior lawyer role models who are open to being contacted by peers with questions about developing a pro bono “second career.”
You can also join the Senior Lawyer Public Interest Project e-mail list (please provide your name, employer, mailing address, phone number, and e-mail address) to obtain information about updated resources, emerging pro bono needs, and new pro bono projects being developed by local legal service providers.
Finally, you may contact the Pro Bono Program by calling 202-737-4700, ext. 3376.
- The DC Bar Pro Bono Program
- Association of the Bar of the City of New York
- International Senior Lawyers Project
- American Bar Association Second Season of Service
- American Bar Association Senior Lawyers Division
- The Pro Bono Institute Second Acts
- State Bar of California Emeritus Attorney Program
Read about other attorneys who have undertaken significant public service projects.