Leah Belfort enjoyed a long, successful career as an accountant before she became a lawyer.
She had always wanted to go to law school, but kept delaying her dream. Positive experiences with lawyers and presenting at CLE seminars affirmed her ongoing interest.
At age 60, realizing that it was "now or never," she enrolled in St. John's Law School night program. She graduated in 1997, the same year she retired as an accountant.
She had acheived her goal of learning more about the law. But she had another goal in mind: using her degree to better her community.
To fulfill that dream, Belfort has devoted her retirement years exclusively to doing pro bono work, which she describes as both "rewarding" and "eye-opening."
Since 1998, she has volunteered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project, a joint project of the Nassau/Suffolk Law Services and the Nassau County Bar Association.
She has devoted more than 5,000 hours of pro bono services. Last year, she donated nearly 500 hours to 82 cases. Her hours have increased each year.
She notes the problems pro bono service agencies are facing.
"People have a myriad of problems and there are not enough pro bono attorneys to help these people. Funding is down. It's a sad situation," says Belfort. "The needs are greater now and there are less people to help."
Working one day a week, she handles as many cases as possible. All of her cases are civil, mainly involving consumer credit and taxes. Because she assists people whose problems can be resolved with phone calls and letters, she can help a larger number of clients.
Her financial and tax expertise has expanded the range of services that the Volunteer Lawyers Project can provide.
Clients have responded favorably to Belfort's help, caring and effectiveness. She recently received a note that read, "I just want to thank you and the Volunteer Lawyers Project ever so much for your help. My situation was very challenging to me, but your expertise and level of professionalism made a huge impact in the crisis."
Belfort received the President's Pro Bono Service Award for the Tenth Judicial District.