After representing Bank of America for 27 years, retired Orange
County attorney Richard Herr is fulfilling a different kind of commitment these days. He
now works to steer creditors away from impoverished senior citizens. He advises seniors
facing Social Security problems, elder abuse and eviction. He counsels clients who
cant hold back their tears.
And, for the first time in his legal career, Herr isnt paid for
But the work, he says, provides its own rewards. Every once in
a while, you really work out a solution for a very troubled client, he said,
and the feeling of satisfaction I get from that is enormous.
Herr, 69, is one of 76 retired attorneys who, through the State
Bars Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Program, volunteer legal help to impoverished
clients across the state. In turn, the State Bar waives the retired attorneys
membership fees and the attorneys gain access to cost cuts for some MCLE courses.
State Bar officials created the program in 1987 to encourage retired
lawyers to represent low-income Californians on a pro bono basis. Now at a time
when money-strapped legal services programs are struggling to serve more indigent clients
such volunteers are crucial.
To qualify for the program, retired attorneys and judges must be in
good standing with the bar and have been admitted to practice at least 10 years ago, with
three of the last eight years spent practicing in California. Participants agree to
restrict their practice to providing pro bono help through qualified legal services
programs or certified lawyer referral services.
They volunteer, they say, for various reasons. They want to help
others. They love practicing law but want to control when and how much they
practice. They want to give something back. They like the intellectual stimulation. They
want equal access to justice for the poor. And they recognize the desperate need for such
During his corporate career, Herr, who traveled frequently and
commuted 2-1/2 hours a day to and from his office, never did any pro bono work. But he
made a personal commitment to do so after his retirement. I felt like because I
wasnt doing any, I wasnt doing my share, he said.
In 1996, Herr retired as assistant general counsel in the banks
problem loan and bankruptcy legal group. Seven months later, he began volunteering his
services one day a week at the Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program (SCLAP) of the Legal
Aid Society of Orange County.
Initially, it was a lot more challenging than I expected,
he recalls. It was sort of like embarking on a whole new legal career.