California Bar Journal
CBJ - December 2012 #03.
Career break yields professional rewards, bar dues waiver
The California LawyerDecember 2012Career break yields professional rewards, bar dues waiverBy Amy YarbroughStaff WriterWhen Susan Nelson finally made up her mind to retire, she was tired and eager to say goodbye to the stress of her job with the California Department of Justice. But she wasn't ready to leave the law behind.
That first year, Nelson paid her bar dues to keep up her law license but didn't do anything with it. Then, a good friend told her about the State Bar's decades-old Pro Bono Practice Program, which gives retired attorneys and those just taking a break from the law the opportunity to put their skills to work for low-income Californians, getting a dues waiver and other benefits in return.
"If it weren't for this program, I probably wouldn't be practicing. For me it's an easy way to practice and it definitely benefits people." - Susan Nelson
The program, which has typically involved between 80 to 100 attorneys a year, was initially envisioned as a way to encourage retirees to keep using their skills by volunteering for legal service programs funded by Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA). In recent months, the State Bar has loosened eligibility requirements in hopes of getting newer attorneys involved in the program and has broadened it to include court-based self-help centers.
"During these challenging times, when legal aid programs and court self-help centers are providing such crucial services with few resources, volunteer attorneys who are part of the Pro Bono Practice Program can make a real difference," said Mary Lavery Flynn, director of the State Bar's Office of Legal Services.
Nelson is doing just that for Elder Law and Advocacy, which provides civil legal services to seniors in San Diego and Imperial counties. Nelson, who spent 21 years with the California Department of Justice's Health, Education and Welfare Section handling cases involving Medi-Cal, unemployment, welfare to work and other issues, said she's enjoyed using her legal skills while no longer having to deal with the pressures of litigation.
"If it weren't for this program, I probably wouldn't be practicing," she said. "For me it's an easy way to practice and it definitely benefits people."
Started in 1987 as the...