Attorney Emeritus Volunteer John Young Takes Final Bow in His “Second Act”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

  • The Legal Aid Society

John Young began his legal career in 1960 with the Syracuse firm of Mackenzie Hughes and later spent nine years with Whitman & Ransom here in New York City. However, the bulk of John’s career was spent as an in-house attorney, serving as House Counsel for insurance giant Chubb & Sons from 1965 through 1974 and again from 1984 through his “retirement” in October of 1996. John did not stay retired for long. In early 1997, after searching for an opportunity to “do something of socially redeeming value”, John signed on to be a volunteer attorney working in The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights office inside the Manhattan Family Court. Fifteen years later, John has “retired” again, and agreed to discuss his experiences as an Attorney Emeritus with Legal Aid in the “Second Act” of a distinguished career.

PBB: How did you first become involved with The Legal Aid Society?

JY: I had spent the early part of the 90’s, chafing under a less interesting practice and was looking for something that involved children where I could make a difference in their lives. A friend, who at the time was a Supervising Attorney at the Manhattan Juvenile Rights office, said to me, “If you think you can handle it, I’ve got something that you could really make a difference doing.” Initially, I worked with a staff attorney, helping to prepare cases for hearings in which the Judge would review the foster care placements of children who had been freed for adoption, but had not yet had their adoptions finalized. Eventually, I appeared on those matters under supervision, and by late 1997 I began to accept assignment of and prepare cases of my own.

Former In-House Counsel and recent Juvenile Rights Practice Volunteer Attorney, John Young.

PBB: How was the work different from your work in private practice or as in-house counsel?

JY: I had handled primarily insurance litigation before I came to Legal Aid, even arguing cases in the New York State Court of Appeals and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but the very first time I appeared on the record in Family Court my knees were shaking. I had spent over thirty years in a practice where in one form or another, the cases involved putting a dollar value on a past event. But with Legal Aid, everything I did on my cases was focused on making the future brighter for a child. That was far more challenging.

PBB: Did you feel like your litigation experience was crucial to your work with Legal Aid?

JY: I was actually very surprised at how little of the job involved actual litigation. So much of the work was consultative and required negotiations as well as advocacy for services for children outside of the courtroom. Becoming familiar with the regulations that govern the child welfare system and trying to leverage them to advance the interests of your clients, much in the way a transactional attorney does for their clients.

PBB: You’ve had an opportunity to work with several other Attorney Emeritus volunteers at Legal Aid. Could you describe your shared experiences?

JY: At first you feel a little awkward. You are usually older than your Legal Aid colleagues, yet you have so little experience. But I think all of us have found that the staff was always willing to help and were grateful for us being here. Attorneys on my team were very careful to be certain I did not become overloaded. Each of the senior attorneys felt excited and privileged to help children and seemed comfortable with the “reduced circumstances” of the Legal Aid offices as compared to the offices where they had previously worked.

PBB: What about the experience did you enjoy most?

JY: I’d have to say it was a tie between working with the children and working with my colleagues. The challenges are enormous and the payoffs can be sporadic, but there are not enough superlatives to describe the collegiality, camaraderie and collaborative spirit of the staff. They provided support, both professionally and personally. Dedicated, caring, thoroughly helpful and friendly.