By Michael Fiello, ISBA Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services
Barry Bloch is an in-house pro bono attorney with the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance office in East St. Louis, Illinois. He received a BSBA degree from Drake University in 1970. After graduating he received a fellowship in labor economics at Cornell University and was planning on entering that program. That all changed when he received a notice to show up at Ft. Bragg for basic training. During what he describes as his “very short stint on active duty” he was accepted into a number of law schools and ended up at Northwestern University. He received his JD cum laude from Northwestern University in 1974.
Before attending law school Barry did not have a specific idea of what type of law he wanted to practice. Barry told me that “the only thing I knew about the law was what I saw on the Perry Mason show.” Upon graduating, all of his job offers were for tax related jobs. He and his wife wanted to stay in Chicago so he accepted a job as a tax attorney at Jewel Companies, at the time a three billion dollar grocery, drug, and restaurant conglomerate headquartered in Chicago. That job was a planning position with occasional appearances before administrative bodies.
All of Barry’s jobs since have been tax related. In addition to Jewel, he was also an attorney with the Regional Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, and first a tax attorney and then Vice President for Employee Benefits with the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. After Kimberly-Clark, he worked for a private corporation for about 25 years where he very rarely became involved in legal matters.
Although he worked at a legal aid office in St. Louis for one summer during law school, he was not involved in pro bono work during his career. He has been a pro bono volunteer with Land of Lincoln since June of 2010.
Q: When did you retire from practice?
A: It depends what you mean by practice. A lot of lawyers might say what I did was never really the practice of law. I never was in a “real” courtroom until my pro bono service with Land of Lincoln. I stopped my paid work in March 2009.
Q: What made you decide to do pro bono work after you retired?
A: About five or six years ago, while still working, I began to realize that my life was primarily self-centered. Other than making cash contributions to various charities, I had spent fifty plus years really ignoring the needs of others. I then started looking for things I might do. Luckily, my wife of thirty-eight years is a successful attorney so I had the freedom to consider options that other people might not be able to consider. One of the areas I looked at was volunteering as a non-compensated attorney at a non-profit.
Q: Were you influenced by the new Supreme Court Rules about pro bono practice by retired attorneys?
No, I wasn’t even aware of it until after I had reactivated my license and completed all my continuing legal education requirements. The ARDC should send out yearly letters about this to retired and inactive status attorneys.
Q: How did you come to choose Land of Lincoln as the place to do pro bono?
A: It’s not easy trying to work for free. Before I retired, I sent more than one letter to the Immigration Project in Granite City offering to work as a pro bono attorney. They never responded. After I retired, I wrote to the Midwest Pension Rights Project about working as a pro bono attorney. I never heard from them. I then wrote Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and volunteered to work as a researcher or paralegal since I am not licensed in Missouri. The only thing I received from them was a brochure or letter soliciting a contribution. I then called the assistant dean at Washington University’s law school, who is responsible for connecting students with pro bono projects. I left a message that, while I was not an alumnus, I hoped she could suggest some nonprofits where I might volunteer. I never heard from her. Finally, I wrote Land of Lincoln and received an email, snail mail, and phone call, all indicating that they were looking for volunteers. It’s a long story, but that is how I ended up at Land of Lincoln.