The SAILS (the Senior Attorney Initiative for Legal Services) Project, a joint initiative of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and the participating law firms, was formally launched on October 20, 2010, to infuse much needed resources into the public interest legal community by harnessing the vast experience of the many talented senior lawyers at D.C. law firms, government agencies and corporate legal departments.
A large number of the lawyers in the District are or will soon be approaching a transitional phase in their careers as they begin to wind down their law practices. The Pro Bono Program, the Commission and the participating law firms believe that tapping this underutilized resource can help significantly narrow the justice gap that has only expanded with the downturn in the economy.
Participating law firms will institutionalize a senior lawyers project at their firms to build a structure and culture that encourages and supports senior lawyers to undertake pro bono work as a central focus of the next phase of their careers. Though the firms will each establish a paradigm that is appropriate to their individual setting, the goal is to reduce barriers and create incentives for senior lawyers to consider a “pro bono path” as they transition from full–time billable work. The Project has learned from the experiences of similar efforts in other major cities that the following criteria are essential to the success and sustainability of any firm’s senior lawyers project:
- ensuring that senior lawyers remain connected with their firms and have access to the firm’s resources to support their pro bono projects (including office space, administrative support and legal support);
- reviewing, and refining as appropriate, firm compensation, retirement and other policies to ensure that senior lawyers who choose this path are supported; and
- working in partnership with the legal services and/or public interest organizations to address urgent legal needs.
Law firms in the District of Columbia have long led the nation in their commitment to pro bono work and their support of the public interest legal community and the clients they serve. This initiative has the potential to become a national model, produce best practices, and create thought leaders on how to marshal this extraordinary resource. It assuredly will significantly expand urgently needed resources into the public interest community and make a rapid and palpable impact on the availability of legal help for the most vulnerable members of our community.
With Arent Fox’s leadership, the Commission and the Pro Bono Center are working closely with participating law firms to examine firm policies that will reduce barriers and create incentives for senior lawyers to engage in this work. The Project regularly convenes meetings of the eleven Founding Partners to provide technical assistance and facilitate the sharing of information among firms. Working closely with the local legal services providers, we have created a list of potential pro bono opportunities. We are in the process of creating a SAILS Project website that will include an online database of projects, testimonials of senior attorneys engaged in pro bono efforts, and sample law firm policies.
For more information, please contact Marc Fleischaker, Chair of the SAILS Project at Fleischaker.Marc@ArentFox.com; Monika Kalra Varma, Executive Director, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program at email@example.com; or Jess Rosenbaum, Executive Director, D.C. Access to Justice Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.