The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program and the D.C. Access to Justice have teamed to launch a new project that is designed to put senior lawyers who are winding down their practices to work on pro bono efforts.
The project, dubbed the Senior Attorney Initiative for Legal Services or SAILS Project and chaired by Marc Fleischaker of Arent Fox (pictured right), asks participating law firms to implement programs in which older attorneys can ply their legal skills on pro bono projects across Washington. Participating firms are reviewing their billable hour policies to ensure that they support senior lawyer efforts.
The idea for SAILS grew out of a January meeting of firm chairs and managing partners that had been called by James Sandman, chair of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee, and Peter Edelman, chair of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission. During the meeting, firm leaders discussed ways to help meet the growing need for legal services among Washington’s poor. That need was exacerbated by the recession, which reduced the amount of funding legal services providers were able to raise.
According to a report released last year by the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers, that the legal services community lost approximately 25% of its funding due to the recession, leading to the loss of 12% of attorneys and nearly 40% of critical non-attorney staff.
When the idea came up during the meeting for senior lawyers to play a larger role in pro bono efforts, Fleischaker, then-chair of Arent Fox, volunteered to organize the project and serve as its chair.
“There is a tsunami of lawyers entering their 60s and heading toward retirement. We thought this would be a great way for them to use their legal skills while helping to meet a growing need for legal services,” Fleischaker said.
Fleischaker said from there he began reaching out to some of the District’s largest firms to gauge the interest in the program. “We received a lot of enthusiastic support among firm leaders,” Fleischaker said.
So far, 11 firms have agreed to take part in the project: Arent Fox; Arnold & Porter; Covington & Burling; Crowell & Moring; Dickstein Shapiro; DLA Piper; Hogan Lovells; McDermott Will & Emery; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Steptoe & Johnson; and Zuckerman Spaeder. Arent Fox has changed its billable hour requirements for senior lawyers to allow pro bono work done as part of SAILS to count towards their mandatory minimums.
Senior lawyers from two of those firms, Arent Fox and McDermott, are already working together with two legal services providers on a project to help homeless and low-income veterans in Washington.
Fleischaker said he is working with other legal service providers to match specific projects with firms participating in SAILS. He said he hopes to have all of the participating firms matched with a legal service provider by Jan. 1. Fleischaker added that he hopes other firms in Washington will want to take part in SAILS.
Both the D.C. Bar and the D.C. Access to Justice Commission have pledged to provide Fleischaker with a staff to help organize the project and to help answer questions.
If the program is successful in Washington, Edelman said that it has the potential to spread to other jurisdictions.
“Washington is the best place in the country to launch something like this, given our long history of pro bono service. But there are a lot of other places where this could really be effective,” Edelman said. “It’s a very exciting project to be a part of.”
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.