To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
As The Baby Boomers Age
In 2000, one-quarter of all lawyers in the United States were at least 55 years old. When the statistics for 2010 are available, that percentage will be significantly higher (since 10 years ago, another 28 percent of all lawyers were between 45 and 54 years old, and the youngest cohort, under 30 years old, represented less than 10 percent of all lawyers). As a profession, we are rapidly getting older.
National, state and local bar associations are striving to address the issues of this group, which has no generally accepted name (because, as we know, the baby boomer generation has not accepted the possibility of becoming "senior" or "old" or "gray"). I will just refer to us as the "over 55s."
The over 55s have two attributes that we should be trying to exploit for the common good: first, more time to devote to activities outside their legal practices; and second, experience and knowledge, including the experience of seeing the profession change markedly over the course of their professional lives.
There are three types of projects that fit well with these attributes. First, pro bono representation. Today we are facing a crisis in dealing with unrepresented litigants who are facing life-changing legal proceedings that they are not equipped to deal with. We are seeing a flood of mortgage foreclosures, consumer debt proceedings, and bankruptcy proceedings. The economic troubles that led to the former frequently lead to domestic problems, including domestic violence and divorce. The number of persons we see in NYCLA's pro bono legal counseling clinic, which provides legal information and assistance in areas such as family, landlord/tenant, consumer bankruptcy and employment law, has increased by more than 30 percent in the last year. At the same time, we have observed that the users of the legal counseling clinic now frequently seek advice on two or three issues, where in the past they generally presented only one issue.
In order to expand services to pro bono clients, NYCLA and its sister bar associations need more volunteers. There is a particularly pressing need for volunteers who can meet with clients during the daytime. The over 55s are ideal candidates, with a wealth of practical experience in dealing with complex issues.
New York State is introducing a program that makes it easier for over 55s who have retired from the active practice of law to continue to provide pro bono services. There will be a new category on the Attorney Registration Form for "Emeritus" status. To qualify, an attorney must certify that she is not engaged in the active practice of law, and that she undertakes to provide at least 30 hours per year in pro bono representation through a recognized pro bono program, such as those sponsored by NYCLA and other bar associations. "Emeritus" lawyers do not have to pay registration fees, and they are not required to take continuing legal education (other than the CLE required to train them for their chosen pro bono programs).
The second type of project that is ideal for the over 55s is mentoring. As noted above, the over 55s have seen both the profession's view of itself and the public's view of the profession change over time. NYCLA's Task Force on Professionalism has recently launched a pilot mentoring program that matches experienced mentors with lawyers who are just starting their careers. The goal of the program is to provide positive role models for fledgling lawyers, to allow them to identify qualities of professionalism that they wish to emulate, as well as qualities of unprofessionalism that they wish to avoid. In focus groups, potential mentees expressed a strong desire for access to mentors, especially mentors who were not affiliated with the mentee's employer. NYCLA is pleased to offer such a program, offering CLE credit to both mentor and mentee, which includes both one-on-one mentoring and group training sessions.
Third, the over 55s are well suited to address another issue that was highlighted by NYCLA's Task Force on Professionalism: the need to educate the public about the legal system and how it works. NYCLA's Committee on Law-Related Education welcomes volunteers who are willing to go to New York City schools to talk about the law and legal careers.
In summary, if you are starting to think about ways to use your legal expertise away from your office, please consider the projects mentioned above. All of them need seasoned volunteers, and by participating you can be part of the solution for someone with a legal problem.
Ann B. Lesk