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Washington Lawyer: Senior Lawyers and Pro Bono Work

December 17, 2014

Children’s Law Center’s special counsel Allen Snyder is interviewed in Washington Lawyer magazine for a feature story about senior lawyers practicing pro bono. The need for legal services for low-income families in DC is high, and senior lawyers have the necessary skills to meet that need. Retirement may be the perfect time for senior lawyers to bring their prodigious skills to the populations who need them the most.

“I know so many lawyers who want to do more pro bono work but are just too busy,” says Allen Snyder, special counsel at Children’s Law Center. “The pressures of private practice make it hard to do more than a certain amount. When you’re retired, you have quite a substantial amount of time available.”

The article goes into some detail about Snyder’s work with Children’s Law Center:

Snyder, the Children’s Law Center special counsel, retired in 2001 after 30 years in private practice at Hogan & Hartson. Snyder wanted to travel and do public service that did not necessarily involve the practice of law. He knew he wanted to work directly with people.

“The pro bono matters that I had done [during my career] were almost exclusively broad, systemic issues where I would try to represent a cause or a large group of people or change the law in a way that I thought would be helpful to society,” Snyder says. “And that’s rewarding, but I rarely represented an individual and got a chance to really know somebody personally and felt I had helped him or her.”

Snyder and his wife knew that they wanted to work with children. After exploring their options, the couple ultimately decided to serve as emergency foster parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, taking foster children into their home for short periods of time, one or two at a time.

“We wanted some flexibility to travel and to do some other things, so emergency foster parenting [worked for us]. It was intense and completely hands-on, but usually for just days or weeks at a time, and then after that period would end, we were still free to visit our older kids out of town and to do other things,” Snyder says.

Allen SnyderThough the couple did not become emergency foster parents with the intention of adopting a child, Snyder and his wife were smitten when they took in two-month-old Ceci in 2005, so they adopted her.

Through his experiences with the foster care system and going to court with foster children, Snyder developed strong opinions about what he thought should be improved within the system. Snyder did not represent the children in court; he went to observe and to know what his foster children were dealing with. When speaking with friends, Snyder shared his experiences and opinions about the system.

One of his friends happened to know Judith Sandalow, the executive director at Children’s Law Center, who was planning to start an appellate practice at the center. The mutual friend told Sandalow about Snyder’s background and his opinions on the foster care and adoptive systems.

Sandalow reached out to Snyder in 2011 and asked him if he would be interested in volunteering as special counsel in an appellate practice at Children’s Law Center. “She hit me where I lived,” Snyder says. “She mentioned this [opportunity], and it came at a time when I did have more time available. In fact, this has been a tremendously rewarding opportunity for me because the work we do is important for children and for the community, and it is in an area that I feel strongly about.”

Before accepting the position, Snyder did have a request. “When I was offered the job, I said I would only take it if I could continue to walk my daughter to the school bus every morning at nine o’clock and be there at four o’clock when she gets off the bus,” Snyder says.

During the past two years, Snyder has logged more than 1,000 hours each year for the center, about half of the hours he worked in private practice. Although there is a firm time commitment on his behalf, he still has the flexibility to spend time with his family, which is what he wanted as he considered retirement.

“When I was thinking about retiring, I did think about working part-time or trying to cut back in some way,” Snyder says. “It’s hard to do that in private practice, particularly if you’re a litigator. The court schedules do not really accommodate flexibility.”

While committed volunteer positions like Snyder’s may be rare, he believes that the opportunities are growing for interested lawyers like him. “I think that there are more and more lawyers who don’t want to continue in private practice and die with their boots on,” Snyder says.

“I think there are more and more who would like to retire a little younger than traditionally, but I think many of them are not aware of opportunities like this that are more plentiful now—to do something the lawyer would enjoy, find rewarding, and yet, give them a little more time and flexibility than they have in private practice.”