Issue: August, 2009
Author: Mary Angell
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Lending a Helping "Hand"
There’s a saying that old attorneys never die; they just lose their appeal. The Wyoming State Bar doesn’t agree.
“I don’t think they lose their appeal,” said Pat Hand, retired Douglas attorney. “They just have to volunteer.”
Hand, 73, graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1963 and practiced law in Douglas for 40 years, handling mostly contracts and ranching and mineral cases. He served as legal counsel for the Converse County School District for 27 years, and his clients included generations of families.
He retired in 2003 and he and Karen, his wife of 52 years, moved to Cheyenne two years ago to be closer to family.
A 46-year member of the Wyoming State Bar, Hand now volunteers at the Bar office.
“There are a lot of seniors who are not dottering,” he said. “You have to retire in your 70s, but a lot of people still have a lot to share and give.”
Though Hand helps out in the office as needed, even filling in for the receptionist occasionally, his primary focus is on recruiting other retired attorneys to assist with the provision of legal services in the state. The new approach will not only give retired lawyers an opportunity to continue their contributions to the legal profession, but also bolster the quality of legal services available to Wyoming residents.
Hand and Bar Executive Director Sleeter Dover are forming an ad hoc task force to brainstorm ways to enlist retired lawyers to improve the state’s pro bono and pro se services. The task force will make its recommendations to the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission.
Dover said it became clear to him right away that the need for legal services for low income and indigent residents far exceeds the availability of attorneys who are able to provide them.
“Retired attorneys still have skills and knowledge of the law. What if we were able to enlist attorneys to act as initial screeners for folks who come in need of assistance?” he said. “If retired volunteer attorneys can prepare the case so it’s ready to go to court, and then get active attorneys to actually make the court appearance, it would save time.”
Because many rural areas of Wyoming don’t have legal services, the Bar offers a referral program. Hand has fielded many referral calls, sometimes as many as 30 per day, a number that surprised him.
Hand started volunteering for the Bar in part because he and Dover know each other from having worked together years ago; Dover was the director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation while Hand served on the Wyoming Transportation Commission.
“Pat and I go way back,” said Dover. “When I became executive director of the Bar, he came by to visit. He indicated that if there were something he could do, he would be more than happy to do it. I said I would keep that in mind. Once it became clear we were going to need assistance with the pro bono program, he made the mistake of showing up here again. I broached the subject with Pat, and he seemed pretty excited about it.”
Hand and Dover have begun contacting the nearly 100 retiring Wyoming State Bar members and outlining their plans for senior volunteers.
The Bar may also enlist volunteer retired attorneys to help revise the state’s pro se packets and make them more comprehensible for the public.
“People can’t figure out how to get the forms,” Dover said. “And we want to look at the pro se packets and see if they can be improved and simplified, made easier to understand.”
Retired attorneys can also share their knowledge and experience with those newer to the profession through the Bar’s mentoring program.
“The mentoring program is a great thing,” Hand said. “When I started in 1963, if a lawyer had a drinking problem or got into trouble with a client due to something even as minor as failing to copy a letter to a client or failing to return a phone call, the Bar would call itself ‘the fire brigade’ and senior members would offer advice.”
Now the Bar matches volunteer mentors with attorneys who are eager to benefit from their wisdom.
Retired lawyers can also speak to junior and senior high school classes or address students at Law Day or Boys and Girls State to promote the Bar and educate the younger generation on the judicial process. Publicity like this enhances the image of the Bar, Hand said.
“We get all this flack, but lawyers stand between the people and tyranny,” said Hand. “Besides, they have great stories. We all have a mountain of them.”
The idea of recruiting retired lawyers as volunteers follows the concept of the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Second Season of Service, Dover said. The ABA recognizes that the Baby Boomer generation, now reaching retirement age, may not be ready to give up law entirely and can meet a number of needs within the legal profession.
“Human beings want to be needed; they want to be useful,” Hand said. “We seniors may have limitations, but most want to be useful if you just give them a chance.”
Volunteering for the Bar helped stimulate his mind again, he said.
“I was getting a little cobwebbed. Karen likes the fact that I come home now and talk about things rather than watching TV,” said Hand. “I love the law. I loved serving people, helping people. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now.”
Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a frequent contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer.
Copyright © 2009 – Wyoming State Bar