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Retired Lawyers in 43 States Help Low-Income Clients for Free

In a growing national trend, retirees are induced to serve others, many of them elderly

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A few years ago, a 90-year-old Philadelphia widow fell behind on a loan that she and her husband had taken out to repair their roof. She was in danger of losing her home until a retired attorney, Don Parman, came to her rescue. 

Parman spent 28 years at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline working on legal details of securities and corporate transactions before retiring a decade ago. Today, as a volunteer for the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program, he helps low-income clients with housing-related legal problems. In the widow’s case, he was able to work with the lender to modify the terms. “They were able to come up with a payment she could afford,” he says. “She was able to stay in her home.”

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Parman is one of a growing number of retired lawyers nationwide who assist people who can’t afford legal representation. According to the American Bar Association, at least 43 states now have programs that confer special “emeritus” status to older attorneys, often giving them a break on licensing fees and continuing-education requirements if they provide services pro bono. 

In New York state retired lawyers pledge to donate 30 hours of legal work a year, but some do 1,000 hours, says Cora Vasserman, coordinator for the Attorney Emeritus Program. The program places volunteers with legal aid organizations, which train them to help clients with landlord-tenant problems, consumer concerns, divorces and everyday matters that ex-corporate lawyers might be unfamiliar with. They also may mentor younger staff attorneys. 

“It’s not the same challenge, in terms of legal problem-solving, that I had in my career,” Parman says. “But it’s a different sort of satisfaction, because you’re helping someone who is sitting there beside you.”

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