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From the President

State Bar reaches out to senior lawyers

By Patrick Kelly
President, State Bar of California

Patrick KellyWhat a difference just a few months makes. Back in January, I wrote about the Senior Lawyers Working Group, a then-fledgling group I launched to address the challenges facing our state’s growing population of older lawyers. I am happy to report that the group chaired by Trustee Pearl Mann has been very productive since then. The State Bar is already moving forward with a number of key initiatives designed to help lawyers who choose to continue practicing into their senior years as well as protect the public from those who can no longer provide competent representation.  

The working group plans to hold its first public forum from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on June 3 at the State Bar’s Los Angeles office, where members will have a chance to hear from medical and legal experts about the clinical aspects of aging and cognitive impairment as it relates to professional competency. The lineup of speakers is impressive. It includes Susan Bernatz, a forensic neuropsychologist for the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center at County/USC Medical Center; William Slease, chief disciplinary counsel for the New Mexico Supreme Court; and Jay Foonberg, a former chair of the State Bar’s Senior Lawyers Committee. I encourage you to attend.

Also this month, Pearl Mann and fellow Trustee Karen Goodman will take part in a panel discussion targeting issues important to senior lawyers at the State Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Summit in Long Beach from June 20 to 22. The title of the program is “Relief Practitioner: How to Plan for the 9th Inning of Your Legal Career." (For those of you who cannot attend, the discussion will be repeated at the State Bar’s Annual meeting this fall.) The panel discussion is just one of several programs relevant to older lawyers scheduled during the solo summit. For example, an MCLE program called “Planning for the Death or Disability of the Solo Practitioner” will be presented from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. on June 20.

It’s hard to look at a newspaper without coming across an article addressing the so-called “Silver Tsunami,” the ominous nickname given to the unprecedented wave of baby boomers who are entering or about to enter their senior years. According to the Administration on Aging, by 2030 there will be 72.1 million Americans aged 65 and older, more than twice the number there were in 2000. Seniors will grow to represent 19 percent of the U.S. population. The figures are similarly dramatic for California lawyers. According to a State Bar survey, the percentage of California lawyers 55 or older grew from just 14 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 2011.

To get ahead of the curve, the State Bar has launched a senior lawyers web page, a collection of resources that address professional responsibility issues that can arise in connection with retirement, disability and the death of attorneys, including guidelines for closing or selling a law practice. The page will be broadened and updated under the guidance of the working group.

Fittingly, the working group has also been working with the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) to find new ways to provide support to the families, friends and colleagues of lawyers suffering from stress or age-related conditions that impact their behavior and cognition. As a result of that new relationship, the LAP has developed a helpful wellness guide with information about how to spot dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and the signs of depression, as well as tips for encouraging an older attorney to make plans for their practice in case of incapacitation.

In addition, the State Bar has already developed an Attorney Surrogacy Program to assist attorneys winding down their practice and has published a guide book on this subject.

We at the State Bar are attempting to do all we can to fulfill our responsibility of public protection and help senior lawyers have a fulfilling, high quality and professional practice. We are interested in your suggestions for building on these efforts. If you have a suggestion or a comment, please email it to State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley,