In addition to dealing with his clients creditors an
irony that isnt lost on the former banking attorney Herr immediately ventured
into new legal areas. And he found himself in the unfamiliar position of counseling
seniors in the middle of crises. His daughter, a social worker, now teasingly refers to
him as a part-time social worker. And, says Herr, theres some truth to
Nor was Herr prepared for the gratitude expressed by his new
clientele even when he isnt able to provide much help. I never cease to
be amazed, he said, at the effusive thanks you get.
Fellow volunteers echo Herrs sentiments. Mary Pat Toups
who works with Herr recalls one impoverished client who was so thankful for a bit
of advice that he presented her with the largest tomato that shed ever seen. I
was really touched, she said.
In another instance, Toups, 71, got a call from a senior citizen who
had lost a third of her Social Security income after her husbands death. Living in a
rented mobile home, the woman didnt have enough money to buy her medicine and still
manage to eat.
Toups told her to go to a nearby senior center for lunch. The woman,
however, said she couldnt afford the $2.25 charge. Toups was able to explain that,
under the Older Ameri-cans Act, the woman need only pay what she could afford. Toups
suggested a nickel.
The relieved woman, in turn, insisted she could pay a quarter and
broke into tears. She cried over the fact that she was going to get to eat,
Wide variety of cases
The cases run the gamut, volunteers say, from a woman who cant
afford to eat, to clients whove been tricked into signing away their homes, to
seniors abused by their children.
Bill Wise, who supervises Toups, Herr and three other retirees at
SCLAP, describes his volunteers as a vital resource. We would never be able to do
what we do without them, he said.
When staffing was reduced in 1996 due to federal funding cuts, the
program was able to maintain its same level of services because of the volunteers, Wise
said. And now SCLAP serves even more clients.
Toups has been providing
legal help for little or no pay since the early 1970s when, she said, no one wanted a
woman lawyer and no one wanted to serve the poor.
Volunteering at SCLAP since 1992, she now also works on a local,
state and national level to recruit other senior lawyer volunteers. Shes even
compiled and edited a book on the topic.
Not only does it mean a lot to the poor people who get helped,
but it means a lot to the senior lawyers who volunteer, she said. Shes watched
new volunteers gain a sparkle in their eyes, she says, as they become involved
in the work.
When Menlo Park attorney Barbara Kalhammer, 62, first called the Pro
Bono Project of Silicon Valley five years ago, she didnt plan to become immersed in
pro bono work.
Her job on a specially hired litigation team had ended and, with no
income flow, Kalhammer simply decided to donate some time instead of writing
her usual check.
She recalls the programs office manager showing her to a stack
of files the cases languishing without attorneys. And she recalls the details of
her first client: a non-English-speaking immigrant who had lost custody of her children,
home and car because of her husbands
false claims and breakdowns in the system.
The nearly penniless woman, a kitchen helper in a senior
citizens home, had traveled by bus from San Jose to Salinas and back in search of an
By the time Kalhammer picked up the case, the file had been dormant
for months; in the meantime, the hearing for permanent custody of the children was fast
More than 100 hours later, Kalhammer had persuaded a judge to award
the home, full custody of the children and child support back to her client.
Recently, Kalhammer visited the woman who has since remarried and gained enough
new skills to move out of the kitchen and into a front office job.
Without an attorneys intervention, she would have been
absolutely ground up, Kalhammer said. She was really falling through the
Since that case, Kalhammer has done only pro bono legal work. The
flexibility of such work and the freedom to set up ones own schedule appeals to her,
she said, adding, I can pick the cases that appear to really deserve an
John Hedges, director of the Pro Bono Project, marvels at
Kalham-mers determination to right the wrongs in challenging,
time-consuming cases. I wish we had more Barbaras around, he said.
Hedges and other legal services program managers point out that
retired attorney volunteers also play an important role in mentoring and supporting the
work of newer, less-experienced attorneys.
Through the emeritus attorney program, retired attorneys can donate
services through more than 100 qualified legal services programs or the no-fee panels of
certified lawyer referral services.
They receive training, access to MCLE programs, malpractice coverage
and supervision through the local program. To help participants meet their MCLE
requirements, many legal services programs offer free education. Discounts for some
additional MCLE programs are available as well.
Tailored to fit
No minimum amount of work is required. The local programs, however,
vary in their requirements.
At the Pro Bono Project, Hedges says he works with each
attorneys lifestyle and needs. Some attorneys take one case at a time; others focus
on assisting new lawyers or advising clients one or two days a week.
When retired attorney Justin Gross first volunteered his services in
Fresno, he just wanted to stay occupied. It wasnt for any great sense of civic
duty, he recalls. I didnt want to be sitting by the refrigerator all
In 1994 two years after Gross retired from a long corporate
career in the San Francisco Bay Area his wife took a yearlong job in Fresno. Gross,
who had no friends in the area, began volunteering services through the local legal
A little bit of shock
Now back in the Bay Area, Gross, 68, focuses on landlord-tenant
issues at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, where he advises clients three
afternoons a week. The experience, he said, has been eye-opening for a former corporate
attorney who was raised in an upper-middle-class family.
Some of the things you see here I had heard about but never
really believed existed, he said. Theres a little bit of a shock at how
poor people are treated on the one hand.
After six years as a volunteer, Gross says he sees pro bono work as
an opportunity to continue working his mind while helping others who truly need help. And
he encourages other retired attorneys to do the same.
Says Gross: I tell everyone one I know, When you retire,
youve got to have a plan. And this is as good as it gets in having something