On the Job at 88

Taking Naps? Raking Leaves? Not Pro Bono Lawyer Paul J. McClure

Paul J. McClure gets up every weekday morning and heads to his office at Highland Towers in Memphis. He sees clients all morning, working on wills, powers of attorney, routine documents like that. Then around noon, he knocks off. Pretty easy schedule for a lawyer. But this lawyer is 88 years old and retired. Highland Towers is not an office park but a retirement/nursing home. And he does the work absolutely free.

"When I retired I didn't want to sit down and rock," he says. "My theory is they'll put you in a box after about six months of rocking so I wanted to do something to make me get up and move in the mornings. I contacted the head of [a corporation that owned nursing homes] and asked him if he'd be interested in me visiting and offering assistance. About a year after I started there, they moved and gave up the management of that building but I was ensconced there with an office and everything, and the new management was agreeable to my staying.

"I don't pay them and they don't pay me," he chuckles at the arrangement.

When he practiced law for money, he did mostly real estate, probate, estate planning and a few divorces. "I hardly knew where the courthouse was," he says. "I didn't do much courtroom work at all." He practiced with the firm that at the time was Owen & Lail in Memphis. He joined in September 1973 and stayed with Owen until 2002 when he retired "and went into this pro bono work."

"He says he's on his next 30-year career doing pro bono work," daughter Sue McClure says.

To describe how he got where he is now, Paul McClure says he has a "checkered past."

"When I went to law school you could take the bar after two years; I took it in 1941 and passed and was admitted on 5 September 1941. Then Pearl Harbor happened, and a month and a half after that I went to Fort Riley and stayed in the service 30 years."

When he got out, he wrote to the dean of then-Memphis State University's law school. "He said he'd go ahead and give me the degree. So I got a diploma dated 1942.

"So 30 years later, I went back to what is now the University of Memphis and audited some courses for about three semesters full time. I'd forgotten a bit after 30 years."

While he was practicing, he says, he did not do a lot of pro bono work, except mostly for his church. He doesn't describe what he does now as very much, either though.

"My pro bono efforts are not much. I go to nursing homes and retirement centers. All I do is write wills, powers of attorney and living wills for the residents," he says. "I feel like I'm too old for courtroom work."

His daughter says he racks up some mileage doing his work. "On Mondays, he goes to The Towers, Tuesday is Stage Park, Wednesday is back at The Towers and another one, Thursday is Wesley Highland and Luther Terrace and Friday is out at Millington," his daughter Sue, a Nashville-area journalist, says.

Her dad estimates he drives about 150 miles a week for his pro bono work, "if I don't do any unusual driving," like when he recently drove out to a hospital to deliver a power of attorney for a woman who had been admitted.

"It's not enough to bankrupt me; it's just part of the game," he says.

"I want to emphasize that while I spend three hours at a nursing home, I may only have one customer. While I'm there and available I'm not necessarily overloaded with work," he says, again brushing off any notion that his efforts are monumental.

McClure "runs a scorecard" on each client. "I make a file and keep a copy of every document I do. I'm up to 600 now, over a period of six years."

When he started this second law career, a young woman helped him with the typing and record-keeping.

"I would get the raw data from a client and pass the information to her and she would write the will or power of attorney or whatever. At first I got enough to keep her fairly busy. [Later] I was able to take care of most of it on my own. I'm not a computer expert, but I can [format a document] and come up with a passable will. When I run into trouble, she will fill in."

Like the Supreme Court and its aspirational directive to lawyers to perform more pro bono, McClure sees the benefit to helping -- not only for the client but for himself.

"You just get satisfaction from trying to help people, hopefully helping," he says. "That's about all there is to it. I am appreciative to [the nursing homes] to let me come. It gives me something to do — otherwise I'd be taking naps or raking leaves."

Suzanne Craig Robertson is editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal. Colleen McConnell contributed to this story.