Jim Peters is a private lawyer who is a member of the Colorado Access to Justice Commission. At the recent Rothgerber Conference in Denver he came up with a really new idea — to link senior attorneys interested in pro bono with a law school clinic like structure. Here are some thoughts he offered in elaboration.
The suggestion that I offered was the creation of law school pro bono representation centers that would utilize the experience of seasoned attorneys who are nearing retirement age and looking for a meaningful way to stay active and to utilize their legal experience on behalf of the community. Law schools have traditionally focused on training and utilizing law students in legal aid/legal clinic programs. Upon graduation, those students naturally become engaged in the full time practice of law, marriage, and raising young families. In essence, young lawyers have so many additional priorities placed on their time that they are often unable to continue their pro bono representation.
Seasoned lawyers, on the other hand, come to a stage where they are looking for ways to wind down from the demands of a full time legal practice and yet want to remain active and engaged. These veteran lawyers who have lived a life of billable hours are now looking for a way to give back to their community in a way that is meaningful and makes a significant difference.
Law schools would be a good match for this renewed purposeful energy that seasoned lawyers often experience. Law schools have the credibility and teaching tools available to transfer a seasoned attorney’s knowledge and experience from the private practice of law to the areas of law commonly identified with pro bono representation, e.g. housing, employment, domestic violence, financial assistance, veteran benefits, etc. Such a Center would be a natural partner with various other indigent legal service entities and also provide the opportunity to pair transactional lawyers who don’t feel comfortable handling cases in a courtroom setting with those attorneys who’s prior experience involved courtroom work. In addition, law schools are increasingly looking for ways to engage their alumni and the local community–this is an excellent opportunity to accomplish both!
My suggestion is borne out of my personal experience and background. I currently conduct parole revocation hearings as an Administrative Hearing Officer for the Colorado Parole Board. In that role I am able to appoint an attorney to represent a parolee who qualifies for Board appointed legal representation. Prior to that I was the two-term elected District Attorney (1997-2005) in Colorado’s 18th Judicial District which encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln Counties. The 18th Judicial District has a very substantial caseload and also has the highest population of any judicial district in Colorado. Prior to my election I was a trial prosecutor in that same office for nearly 22 years. I have personally handled thousands of misdemeanor, juvenile and felony cases and was able to see the clear value and benefit provided by court ordered legal representation in criminal cases.
After leaving my career at the DA’s Office I also began looking for other meaningful things to get involved in. So, in addition to my time contracting with the Parole Board, I currently serve on a number of non-profit boards and commissions including Colorado’s Access to Justice Commission, the Sky-Cliff Stroke and Adult Day Care Center, Explorer Scouting, and the Excelsior Youth Center which is a national residential treatment and education campus for adolescents.
The program might be described as an Encore Center for Pro Bono Legal Representation.
This really seems to me like a win-win-win. Senior pro bono is an idea that lots of people like, but hosting it in a law school seems to me a breakthrough idea that can help get it off the ground. For law schools it is an ideal way to reconnect with alumni who might ultimately consider giving in thanks.
My instinct is that the place to test the idea is a small state with one law school, where everybody knows everyone, and the common interest in a programs sucess will be obvious.
Other ideas for how to make senior pro bono really work would be much appreciated.