I worked for the government, both the state of Wisconsin (almost 19 years) and New York City and Mount Vernon, N.Y. (another 19 years), for a total of 38 years. I also was a VISTA volunteer for two separate tours, one as a lawyer. I truly enjoyed all my government service. I ran an agency, supervised other lawyers and investigators, and had a terrific support staff. I tried cases and applied my energies to bring about fair results. I worked with truly wonderful people at every one of my positions.
Gerald C. Sternberg, New England 1976, operates the Law Office of Gerald C. Sternberg, Madison. He was the director of the Office of Lawyer Regulation (previously the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility) from 1983 through 1998.
When I retired from government service on Sept. 1, 2015, in New York City, my goal was to continue as a solo practitioner handling a small number of cases, pro bono. There are many people who cannot afford to pay the fees that most lawyers charge, and yet, they desperately need a lawyer to represent them. I carefully select the handful of cases for which I have time, since I have many other volunteer activities.
For the last five years, I have represented a variety of people, including a former lawyer who was incarcerated and for whom I obtained an early release, tenants in New York City who were charged excessively for rent or treated unfairly by their landlords (including a 90-year-old woman who was mistreated by her condominium association), veterans seeking disability compensation, a teacher who was unfairly terminated from his position and had civil lawsuits brought against him, two family law cases, and an elderly lady whose family had donated a valuable harp that was being misused in a way that conflicted with the family’s wishes.
I genuinely believe that all lawyers should do pro bono service, whether one case per year or more. It is a wonderful public service, and for me, it has been a way of “giving back” after the profession had given me a livelihood that I very much have enjoyed.
I am also pursuing a volunteer activity on behalf of a group of which I am a member and cofounder, the African-American/Jewish Friendship Group. With Wisconsin State Rep. LaKeshia Myers, the group will introduce legislation to make African-American history an integral part of American history in all Wisconsin schools.
If you’re looking for opportunities to provide pro bono representation, you’re in luck. The State Bar of Wisconsin recently launched its Pro Bono Portal to make it easier for you to connect to legal service organizations throughout Wisconsin. Some groups have specific matters or cases that need an attorney. Others share their regularly scheduled clinics and the ongoing need for volunteers. Every opportunity is tagged with information to help you identify those that fit your interests and experience level.
Do your community (and heart) good. To learn more, visit wisbar.org/probono.
Looking for pro bono opportunities? The State Bar’s Pro Bono Portal connects you to legal service organizations throughout Wisconsin that need your help. Easily identify the opportunities that fit your interests and experience.
Pro Bono Portal:
Meet Our Contributors
Who has most inspired you in your legal career?
The person who inspired me most in my legal career was Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln was both honest and courageous, two qualities I think are most important in any human being. On July 1, 1850, according to notes from a lecture he gave to young lawyers, Lincoln said, “Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”
Lincoln also exemplifies courage in his leadership. He was strongly anti-slavery and his Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, is a testament to his courage.
He also embodied humility, kindness, and graciousness when after the Union won the Civil War, he didn’t exact revenge against Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals. He also had a remarkable gift of eloquence in writing and giving speeches, especially for someone who was without much formal education.
Abraham Lincoln was a man for the ages, a good lawyer, and my inspiration in my legal career.
Gerald C. Sternberg, Law Office of Gerald C. Sternberg, Madison.
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