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In April 1994, South Africa emerged from a half-century of apartheid, electing Nelson Mandela president in the nation’s first truly democratic election.

Ten years later, as South Africa grapples with the residue of a racially divided society, two New Jersey lawyers are playing a role by increasing access to courts through expanded pro bono.

Maureen McCully and her husband, Mickey Winograd, are working to create a formal pro bono program in South Africa, where present efforts are ad hoc and uncoordinated.

In the short period since their involvement began last year – when McCully retired after 24 years as the executive director of the Essex County Bar Association – she and Winograd have paved the way for commitments for more money, training and involvement by private lawyers.

“If lawyers are bored in retirement, it’s their own fault,” said McCully, who along with her husband divides her time between Florida and New York. Winograd had retired in 1992, after a 22-year career as a public defender, during which he headed the Hudson County and Essex County defender offices.


A year ago, South Africa was on the horizon only as a vacation spot for a visit to a friend in Johannesburg.

Looking to put their skills to good use, McCully and Winograd offered their services to Jean Berman, executive director for the International Senior Lawyers Project in New York. The organization sends lawyers to places like Bulgaria and Cambodia to work pro bono on human rights, economic development and access to justice programs.

Berman put the pair in touch with Cathe Kruger, who was seeking assistance for Age in Action, a South African nonprofit organization that needed lawyers to provide free legal aid to the elderly. Its clients needed lawyers to help them collect their national pensions; protect them against fraud and elder abuse; pursue beneficial legislation and handle curatorship and guardianship matters.

These needs exist against the backdrop of a country with immense economic problems. Almost 40 percent of the nation’s population is unemployed. Joblessness runs as high as 70 percent in the townships, where much of the black majority resides, crowded into wood and tin shacks without heat or running water.

AIDS has especially impacted the old, many of whom are raising grandchildren orphaned by the disease. In addition to worrying about their own pensions – about $100 a month – grandparents need help gaining custody of the children and obtaining benefits for them.

There is no public defender system, and about 90 percent of government money for legal aid goes to criminal rather than civil matters. Law school clinics and the public interest groups that try to meet the civil need are swamped.

McCully and Winograd had ideal backgrounds for the job. Winograd was an experienced public defender. McCully helped found New Jersey’s first voluntary pro bono center, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, in 2001. Based in Essex County, VLJ recruits and trains volunteer lawyers to handle disability, education, family and other cases. It matches lawyers with pro bono requests from groups like the Education Law Center and the Community Health Law Project.

After meeting with Kruger, McCully and Winograd agreed to take on the job, rearranging their South African itinerary to fit it in. They also decided not to limit their focus to the elderly.


During their month in South Africa, from last Dec. 22 to Jan. 21, McCully and Winograd met with nonprofits, law schools, law firms, government officials and the head of one of the country’s four provincial law societies. A society is a combination of bar examiner, bar association and office of attorney ethics that all South African lawyers must join.

The timing was fortuitous.

Two months earlier, that law society had adopted South Africa’s first compulsory pro bono program. The Cape Law Society, which has about 4,100 of the country’s 15,000 lawyers, voted to require 24 to 72 hours of annual pro bono.

Taswell Papier, president of the Cape Town-based society, suggested to McCully and Winograd that some of those hours be spent helping Age in Action.

They put him in touch with Karen Sacks, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, who e-mailed him documents, forms and advice. And last week, Papier announced that Cape Law Society members would accept pro bono referrals from Age in Action.

Other meetings also paid off for Age in Action.

Charles Butler, managing partner at Werksmans, one of South Africa’s largest firms, made an associate available for consultation on Age in Action’s elder abuse hotline.

John Janks, from the Johannesburg office of White & Case, volunteered to review pending legislation that pertains to the elderly.

Rudolph Jansen, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, will apply for a grant to help abused seniors.

Age in Action also met with Nick deVilliers of the public-interest Legal Resources Centre, who has been pushing for nationalization of the pension system, a move that is expected to take effect this month.

An American Friends of Age in Action has also been started to raise money. Jonathan Whalen, an associate with Clifford Chance in New York, incorporated it in February. Board members include McCully, Winograd, Sacks, Sharon McGahee, a lawyer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Linda Schofel, a partner with Newman McDonough Schofel & Giger.

David Harris, a partner at Lowenstein Sandler, also got involved when McCully invited him to meet South African lawyers working in New York last September. Harris offered to help their firms set up a pro bono program, and Tembinkosi Bonakele of Cheadle Thompson & Haysom in Johannesburg took him up on it.

Harris, who had headed Lowenstein’s pro bono program for years, helped set up VLJ and is president of the Legal Services Foundation, is putting together a pro bono policy for the South African firm.

“At this stage of their development, for [South Africa's] lawyers to be thinking about pro bono in an organized way is truly remarkable and historical and is an example for the whole world,” said Harris.

McCully and Winograd also hope to help persuade the other three provincial law societies to follow the example of the Cape Law Society. And they have an ally in Papier, who made the case at a March 29 meeting of the national body, the Law Society of South Africa.

McCully said the Northern Province Law Society – with more than 8,000 members, South Africa’s largest – seems “dedicated to moving forward” on pro bono, though no response has been received from a third law society, the Johannesburg Attorneys Association.

McCully and Winograd also are optimistic about setting up a pilot program serving the entire country from a base in Pretoria. They met with the chief court administrator, Advocate P.A. du Rand, who is willing to seek funding, said McCully and Winograd. If they get the go-ahead, they will write a business plan modeled after VLJ.

One problem the program will face is how to cope with a hotline in a country with 11 official languages, ranging from Afrikaans to English to Zulu.


McCully and Winograd comment on the appalling conditions in black townships like Khayelitsha in Cape Town, where the “poverty and squalor [are] beyond imagination.”

Still, Khayelitsha gives McCully and Winograd hope.

They tell of the township’s Grannies Against Poverty and AIDS who learned how to apply for benefits and become guardians for their grandchildren. GAPA is cooperating with Age in Action in running workshops so others can follow suit. GAPA also tries to debunk the myths about the causes and treatment of AIDS. McCully and Winograd recall that one woman is raising 12 grandchildren after losing five daughters to AIDS.

They said they will be involved for the next three or four years and hope their experience will inspire others.

“I would love it if lawyers at the point in their lives where they’re trying to wind down their careers think about doing something like this – to take their skills yet still have great exciting vacations and get out and see the world,” said McCully.

This article originally appeared in the New Jersey Law Journal , a publication of American Lawyer Media.

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