Just because he was about to retire from his legal career did not mean that James Richardson was ready to leave the law entirely. Following retirement, Richardson knew that he wanted to maintain his license, as well as keep his mind engaged. He contacted the Mid Shore Pro Bono Project in Easton. Mid Shore is the local legal service provider which places pro bono cases in Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester Counties and offered his assistance.
One of the first tasks Richardson undertook was developing policies for the organization. His extensive experience in administrative law enabled him to help with the development of case guidelines and operating policies for the agency. “Because of my background, I had access to some policy manuals,” Richardson explains, “so I was able to go through those and pull some things out that made sense for us here.”
Richardson also suggested recruiting volunteer attorneys to spend some time each week working directly in the office to help with the initial client screening process. Currently, there is a volunteer attorney in the office one day each week at Mid-Shore to handle prospective intakes by appointment. This helps focus the efforts of the agency on the cases that qualify, which are then placed with available volunteers. By improving the agency’s effectiveness, client service improved.
“There’s got to be more people out there like me,” Richardson says, “retired attorneys, JAG lawyers, federal employees, state employees, lawyers who would just like to keep their hand in practice but wouldn’t have the same potential conflicts as retirees from private firms. Much of the help that is needed doesn’t involve going into a courtroom.”
“There are all kinds of help that you can give in the legal field,” Richardson adds. “You can draft a will, you can give consults…you can even come in periodically and help the staff with intakes.” The experience that retired volunteers bring to the agency is invaluable, and increases the agency’s effectiveness by helping augment scarce resources.
Jim Richardson attended law school through a program called Excess Leave for Law in the early ’70s. He had served in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to his decision to become a lawyer.
After graduation, Richardson fulfilled his military obligation by working as a Judge Advocate of the Marines while stationed in California. Following his military service, Richardson tried his hand at private practice but soon discovered he preferred working for the government. He took a job in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. One position led to another, and eventually he wound up working as staff of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces until he retired in 2008. Giving back to the community in this way offers him a “second season of service” unique to attorneys.
“I admire what Bobby Kennedy had to say,” Richardson states. “I also like to look at things and say, ‘Why not? How can we change this, how can we make this better?’”
Richardson is not only an agent of change but also believes in “standing up for the little guy,” who is frequently taken advantage of by the system. “People getting pushed around by the system offends me,” Richardson states, “and the great thing about being in this profession is you can do something about it. You can write that letter or write that motion. It doesn’t always involve litigation. I’m having a great time.”
Anyone considering retirement should similarly consider staying active through pro bono service. The Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) can help connect retired lawyers with legal service providers in their area. There are many organizations which could benefit from a lawyer’s experience and skills.
Support pro bono work in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on legal service volunteer opportunities in Maryland, contact the PBRC at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.