Vol. 83, No. 7, July 2010
Back in 1990, Green Bay lawyer Bob Geimer, Marquette 1977, had started his own practice, with an emphasis on elder law. He began to see that many people who contacted him needed short answers to basic questions in areas like long-term care, advance directives, and wills. He also recognized that many of these people were on fixed incomes and unable to pay for a half hour of time with an attorney to obtain the information they needed.
Bob, working with employees in Brown County’s predecessor to its present Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), came up with the idea of holding a series of free seminars on these topics. The seminars initially drew 10 to 15 people; by the end of the first year, the audience numbered 250. The next step, suggested by the Brown County personnel, was to expand the concept to offer monthly free legal-counseling sessions with attorneys whose practices included elder law.
The program has relatively few ground rules. People who attend the sessions must be age 60 or older or have a disability. Legal counseling is offered one day per month, with half-hour slots running from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Usually, all slots are filled and a waiting list is set up. Attendees understand that the purpose of the session is limited to providing them with information, and that the sessions will not involve drafting documents or other legal work. Those who need additional help typically are referred to Legal Action of Wisconsin or the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service.
Alyson K. Zierdt, Marquette 1981, is a member of the Wisconsin Lawyer editorial advisory board. She is retired and of counsel with Davis & Kuelthau S.C., Oshkosh.
Bob credits the Brown County elderly benefit specialists in the ADRC and a pool of six or so dedicated lawyers for keeping the program running for the past two decades. ADRC employees schedule appointments with attendees and line up the volunteer lawyers who staff the legal counseling sessions. The county employees provide the attendees’ names to the lawyers before the appointment so the attorneys can screen for conflicts of interest. Any problem that surfaces with a particular match results in another assignment and additional screening. The county provides the space for the sessions and advertises them in its newsletter.
Although Bob no longer volunteers for the counseling sessions, he has passed along his willingness to serve. His son, Matt, U.W. 2005, started volunteering in the program shortly after joining his dad’s practice. Daughter Mary Rose Orcutt, Hamline 2002, also was a program volunteer, until she reduced her practice hours to spend more time with her family.
Bob’s advice to anyone interested in serving in or starting a program like the one in Brown County is to approach the ADRC or a similar program for aging and disabled people in the county in which the attorney practices. Other counties operate similar programs, and they all welcome additional volunteers.
“For the Good” spotlight: Reports on pro bono in action
This column recognizes the efforts of Wisconsin lawyers who donate their time and professional skills to individuals with legal needs who are unable to pay for a lawyer and to projects serving those individuals.
Do you know of a lawyer or a local project that illustrates “Wisconsin Lawyers Making a Difference” through the gift of time and talent? Send your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org; subject line: pro bono spotlight.