With the new program year kicking off, it’s a good time to consider what volunteer opportunities you might like to get involved in during the coming year! The BBA offers our members a number of ways to give back to the community while developing skills in different areas of law. Below are some of the opportunities that we are currently recruiting volunteers for. Reach out to Public Service & Grants Manager Hannah Poor at [email protected] or 617-778-1938 with questions or to get involved!
HOUSING COURT LAWYER FOR THE DAY Volunteer attorneys are needed to advise and represent low-income, unrepresented tenants and landlords in Housing Court on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. You will provide access to justice to pro se litigants through advice, mediation, and case litigation, mostly in eviction cases. Learn more here.
CORI SEALING CLINIC The CORI Sealing Clinic Pilot Project, which the BBA launched earlier this year in partnership with Greater Boston Legal Services and the Boston Municipal Court, connects low-income clients who have questions about their criminal records with volunteer attorneys who can help. The clinic is held the first Wednesday of every month at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse and clients can receive assistance with obtaining, reviewing, and, if advised, sealing or expunging their records. The clinic aims to help clients remove the barrier to housing, employment, and educational opportunities that having a criminal record can pose. Learn more here.
M. ELLEN CARPENTER FINANCIAL LITERACY PROGRAM This statewide program helps high school students across Massachusetts learn about making informed and effective decisions regarding their finances through educational and experiential opportunities. You can volunteer to present any of the three classroom modules, which cover Personal Finances & Budgeting, Using Credit & Credit Cards, and Financing a Large Purchase. The program culminates with a mock trial presentation in the United States Bankruptcy Court. Learn more here.
BAR EXAM COACHING The BBA’s Bar Exam Coaching program matches volunteer attorney coaches with applicants preparing to sit for the bar exam in Massachusetts, particularly those who are retaking the exam. Coaches guide applicants through the non-substantive elements of exam prep such as mental preparation, study tips, and time & stress management. We are currently seeking attorneys interested in serving as coaches for bar applicants sitting for the bar exam in February 2020. Learn more here.
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE KNOW-YOUR-RIGHTS As part of the BBA’s Service Innovation Project on Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline, the most recent Public Interest Leadership Program class partnered with Greater Boston Legal Services to provide community outreach presentations on school discipline rights, particularly with regards to new rights established under a 2018 settlement agreement that GBLS reached with Boston Public Schools. With the new school year kicking off, we are seeking volunteers to do more know-your-rights presentations to student, parent/caregiver, and community groups throughout Boston! Learn more here.
The BBA’s Public Service programs are made possible with the support of the Boston Bar Foundation.
October is Pro Bono Month, recognizing the valuable pro bono contributions made by lawyers throughout the year, and aiming to increase pro bono participation across the state in order to narrow the justice gap.
The BBA Council voted on Tuesday to recognize October 2019 as Pro Bono Month and to “commend Boston attorneys for their ongoing pro bono contributions, and remind all members that by engaging in pro bono work and providing financial support they can make a significant difference in the lives of Boston’s poor who would not otherwise have access to the legal system.”
Last year, the BBA trained over 200 attorneys to take pro bono cases in civil appeals, veterans’ issues, housing, citizenship applications, education law, and more. Meanwhile, more than 500 of our members dedicated their time to community service and pro bono work through our public service programs –whether by helping clients at our monthly CORI Sealing Clinic or by teaching elementary, middle, and high school students about the importance of First Amendment rights and free speech in our democracy. We are grateful to our members for giving generously of their time and talents – and embodying the spirit of Pro Bono Month all year round by delivering unique services to our community that only lawyers can provide!
This year, we have a robust set of activities planned for Pro Bono Month. We hope you will think about where you might be able to lend support in the year ahead, and plug into one (or more!) of the many volunteer opportunities we will be highlighting in October. Together, we can advance access to justice for all people in Massachusetts.
PUBLIC CHARGE ATTORNEY TRAINING Wednesday, October 2, 12:00-2:00pm, at the BBA Register here.
This free, in-depth training will provide Massachusetts immigration attorneys with information about the new Public Charge regulation, which takes effect on October 15. This training will help lawyers assess how the new regulation will affect their clients and determine case strategy.
PRO BONO TRAINING : CHAPTER 7 CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY BASICS Thursday, October 10, 3:00-6:30pm, at the BBA Register here.
This program will cover all aspects of representing a low-income consumer debtor in a chapter 7 bankruptcy case, and will qualify participants to take on chapter 7 cases pro bono through the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
PRO BONO RECRUITMENT FAIR & OPEN HOUSE AT SUFFOLK LAW Tuesday, October 15, 4:30-6:00pm, at Suffolk University Law School Register here.
The Pro Bono Recruitment Fair & Open House, sponsored by the Boston Bar Association and Suffolk University Law School, is open to law students and attorneys of all levels. Join us to learn about pro bono opportunities with local legal services organizations.
PIZZA AND PRO BONO: MASS LEGAL ANSWERS ONLINE BLITZ Tuesday, October 22, 5:30-7:30pm, at the BBA Register here.
Join us for a pro bono pizza party while we work with volunteer attorneys from Massachusetts Legal Answers Online and the Volunteer Lawyers Project to answer legal questions for low-income Massachusetts residents through the Mass Legal Answers Online website.
FINANCIAL LITERACY PROGRAM VOLUNTEER INFO SESSION Wednesday, October 23, 3:00-5:00pm, at the BBA Register here.
Learn about how you can volunteer with the BBA’s M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program and help high school students across Massachusetts build the foundational skills to make informed and effective decisions regarding their finances.
PRO BONO TRAINING FOR ATTORNEYS TO HELP CLIENTS SEAL THEIR CORI RECORDS Monday, October 28, 3:00-5:30pm, at the BBA Register here.
Learn the skills needed to volunteer at the BBA’s monthly CORI Sealing Clinic and help low-income clients who have questions about their Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) records. CORI Records can pose significant barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities, so advising on sealing and expungement is an important way for lawyers to help.
Boston Bar pro bono and public service projects are made possible by funding from the Boston Bar Foundation.
At its first meeting on September 5th, the 2019-2020 PILP Class heard from two sets of speakers on the topic of criminal justice reform.
First, the class heard from Emily Fish on behalf of Roca, which is a Boston-based organization, founded in 1988 with a unique crime-intervention program that focuses on the riskiest of at-risk residents, the community’s most troubled young men ages 17-24 who won’t take part in other programs and are the most resistant to change. Roca’s Intervention Model serves approximately 850 young men annually out of five hubs statewide – Chelsea, Lynn, Boston, Holyoke, and Springfield. Emily is the director of the Roca site in Lynn.
Emily explained in vivid detail Roca’s program of relentless outreach to at-risk youth, and the transformational relationships that Roca’s youth workers form to encourage behavioral change. She described how Roca partners with other institutional actors – courts, probation departments, police, employers, and others – to support young people who might be resistant to change or subject to relapse. She showed detailed data demonstrating the history of trauma, substance use disorder, and behavioral health problems that many Roca clients have experienced, and explained how an investment in successful programs like Roca can avoid greater costs and crime down the road by disrupting the cycle of incarceration and poverty. Finally, she explained what reforms Roca would like to see to the criminal justice system, including: raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, reducing the number of probation conditions, creating specialized “young adult courts,” and requiring specialized trainings for police officers and prosecutors.
Second, Stephanie Friends Holt and Meagen Monahan presented on behalf of Victim Rights Law Center, which is a bi-coastal organization providing free, comprehensive legal services for sexual assault survivors in Massachusetts and Oregon. Both Stephanie and Meagen serve as staff attorneys at VRLC, providing a wide spectrum of legal services throughout Massachusetts.
Stephanie and Meagen emphasized the wide-ranging nature of the services needed by sexual assault survivors. Many survivors require assistance in obtaining protection orders under M.G.L. c. 209A and c. 258E and on protecting personal privacy as part of the criminal process, but also assistance on a broad range of other matters. Stephanie and Meagen explained that sexual assault frequently impacts survivors’ housing and employment, and requires survivors to walk a fine line between protecting their own privacy but also obtaining necessary accommodations. Survivors in various stages of the immigration process also face a wide range of ramifications that call for VRLC’s expert guidance.
Over the summer, the BBA’s most recent Public Interest Leadership Program class and other dedicated volunteers were busy making presentations on school discipline rights to a number of community organizations as part of the Service Innovation Project on Dismantling the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline. These presentations covered due process rights that Boston Public Schools students are entitled to when faced with a suspension or expulsion, and focused particularly on new rights established under a 2018 settlement agreement between Greater Boston Legal Services and Boston Public Schools.
Volunteers made presentations at the following organizations, reaching over 150 service providers and middle and high school students.
Bird Street Community Center Boston Children’s Hospital Boston Youth Sanctuary Bridge Over Troubled Waters Brookview House DotHouse Health Italian Home for Children Justice Resource Institute North End Waterfront Health South Boston Community Health Center
Volunteers will be doing another round of outreach presentations as the new school year kicks off! If you are aware of any organizations or groups that might benefit from hearing a Know Your Rights presentation on school discipline, or if you are interested in volunteering with the project, please reach out to Hannah Poor at [email protected].
Thank you to the volunteers who made presentations this summer:
Genevieve Aguilar, Harvard University Office of the General Counsel Paula Bagger, Law Office of Paula M. Bagger LLC Erin Brummer, Fragomen Courtney Caruso, Hogan Lovells Caroline Donovan, Foley Hoag LLP Vaishali Goyal, Goulston & Storrs Hillary Harnett, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Susanna Jones, Foundation Medicine, Inc. Matthew Kane, Laredo & Smith Elizabeth Levitan, The EdLaw Project Natasha Lewis, Volunteer Lawyers Project Micah Miller, Nutter Safa Osmani, Hogan Lovells Rebekah Provost, Justice Resource Institute Payal Salsburg, Laredo & Smith Leah Segal, Goulston & Storrs Cecilia Vega, GE
The BBA’s Service Innovation Project on Dismantling the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline is made possible by the Boston Bar Foundation’s Burnes Innovation in Service Fund.
The BBA’s Summer Jobs Program finished off with an exciting final week. On Wednesday, August 21, the Summer Jobs students participated in “Exploring Legal Careers,” a speed networking event designed to help them consider the various career paths open to them within the legal profession. In seven rounds of 15 minutes each, the students had the opportunity to meet with Manisha Bhatt, a senior staff attorney in the Family Law Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services; Karen Castaneda, an attorney for the Boston Public Schools’ Legal Advisors Office at the Office of the Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston; Sam Faisal, a law student at Suffolk University Law School; Nigel Long, Corporate Counsel for Liberty Mutual; Mikerline Paul, a paralegal at the Volunteer Lawyers Project; Walter Rodriguez, an associate at Locke Lord LLP; and Christina Simpson of The Law Office of Christina Simpson, Esq. The students greatly enjoyed meeting with attorneys and legal professionals from a wide range of practice settings, and asked lots of questions about the speakers’ career paths and the advice they have for young people interested in the legal profession.
The next day, the students closed out the summer with the Summer Jobs Celebration, where the students, their colleagues, and their families celebrated the students’ accomplishments with a speaking program and reception. The program started with BBA President-Elect Christine Netski discussing the history of the Summer Jobs Program, which started in 1993 when now-retired Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Sandra Lynch, was a partner at Foley Hoag and the President of the BBA. She spearheaded the program in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, and to-date the program has facilitated summer internships in legal offices for hundreds of Boston high school students.
The audience then heard from student speaker Shakira Jean, a rising junior who interned at the Volunteer Lawyers Project this summer. Shakira discussed the challenges and rewards of working in a legal services office, and talked about how using empathy to put herself in the shoes of clients facing difficult situations had been an important skill set during her summer work. She ended her speech by saying, “If I have the opportunity to be able to do something about [unfairness in the justice system], then I’m going to take it. I just want to be there to make our justice system better and bring justice to people who may not have access to it.”
Following Shakira’s remarks, the students heard from Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents Boston’s District 1. Councilor Edwards discussed her own journey into the legal profession, community organizing, and city government. She noted that she was the first attorney in her family and discussed the challenges she faced in feeling out of place during her time in law school, saying “Statistics would have put me in a different place than where I am right now… I didn’t know any lawyers… I felt like I had to conform.”
However, she talked about the shift that she made into community organizing after the 2008 recession, and how she felt that her career only truly came together when she was able to be her authentic self. She pointed to the legal protections for domestic workers that she helped to pass in her time as a community organizer, saying, “We had no money [for that advocacy work]… We did that being unapologetically ourselves, with the talents that we have.”
She also spoke about her campaign to be a Boston City Councilor, noting that her seat had never before been held by a person of color, and only by one other woman. However, she pointed to the strengths that she was able to bring to the table – and win the campaign on – by being her true self, saying that the Portuguese and Spanish language skills she gained as a community organizer; her background in a military family; and her commitment to knocking on doors and talking face-to-face with members of the community, all helped her connect with voters. She said, “All those ‘nos’ [that we heard], we used to run our campaign… I was doing things differently. And I could only do it because I was doing it as myself.” She encouraged the students to take this advice to heart, in whatever career paths they pursue, saying, “You can’t win without being your true self. The person who you’re faking will win – but not you.”
Following these inspiring remarks by Councilor Edwards, the students and their guests headed upstairs for some refreshments to celebrate the end of a successful summer!
Thank you to each law office that hired a student intern through the program, to our partners at the Private Industry Council and the Mayor’s Office, and, of course, to the 36 students who dedicated themselves to learning about the legal profession this summer – this program would not be possible without you!
With the summer flying by, the Boston public high school students participating in the BBA Summer Jobs Program have continued to gain professional skills working in legal offices throughout the city, and have participated in a number of exciting enrichment seminars hosted by the BBA!
Law 101 The students began their series of enrichment seminars hearing from attorneys Katie Stock of Miyares and Harrington, LLP, and Nicole Phe of Nelson Mullins, about the basics of the legal profession, including the path through law school, the functioning of the court system, and key legal terminology. The students then tested out their new knowledge in an exciting Jeopardy game!
Financial Aid: What You Need to Know On July 17, Daniel Forster, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Westfield State University, walked the students through the ins and outs of college financial aid, including FAFSA, different types of scholarships, work study, and student loans. This presentation made the complicated process of seeking college financial aid much more accessible.
John Adams Courthouse Tour The following week, the students took a tour of the John Adams Courthouse, learning about the historic building and the legacy of John Adams, particularly Adams’ representation of British soldiers following the Boston Massacre due to his conviction that even the most unpopular defendants must have a fair trial. The students had the opportunity to meet with Associate Justice Joseph M. Ditkoff of the Appeals Court, and asked him many questions about his career and the practice of law.
Financial Literacy At the end of July, the Summer Jobs students participated in a program on Financial Literacy, led by Bridget O’Sullivan Somogie and Jeremy Bardsley of the Massachusetts Securities Division. In order to increase the students’ awareness of basic financial skills, the presentation covered personal finance and budgeting; using credit and credit cards; and financing large purchases.
Consequences of Poor Financial Management at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Last week, thanks to a group of BBA volunteers and the Hon. Christopher J. Panos, the students had the opportunity to participate in a skit and mock trial that explained the processes at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The students first engaged in a mock meeting of creditors, with students playing the roles of “creditor” and “trustee,” and learning about the complications involved in declaring bankruptcy and its effect on one’s credit score. Students then met with Judge Panos and the Court clerks for a mock trial that discussed whether the bankrupt individual should have his car repossessed. Students were able to debate the pros and cons of the situation and asked many inquisitive questions, ultimately determining that the bankrupt individual would not be able to pay his creditor enough to keep the car. Many thanks to Judge Panos, the Court clerks, and attorneys Gary Cruickshank, Jessica Youngberg, Jonathan Horne, Alex Mattera, and Donald Lassman for making this experience such a success!
Mock City Council Hearing On August 14, attorney Sean Nehill of the Boston Planning & Development Agency led the students through a mock City Council hearing in the real Iannella City Council Chamber at Boston City Hall! The students learned about the workings of municipal government and had the chance to participate in a mock hearing debating the pros and cons of a fictitious ordinance that would ban non-resident motorized vehicles in the City of Boston, with only a few exceptions. The students broke into groups representing a community-based residents’ group, an environmental advocacy organization, a business association, and an interest group from the automobile industry, and came up with compelling arguments to represent their positions on the ordinance. They then presented their testimony to another group of students playing the City Councilors, who ultimately decided not to pass the ordinance. The hearing sparked a lively debrief discussion about civic engagement and the various ways in which students can advocate for issues that are important to them.
The Summer Jobs program will wrap up next week with a final speed networking seminar titled Exploring Legal Careers, and then with the Summer Jobs Celebration, where the students will be recognized for their accomplishments this summer and hear remarks from keynote speaker Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards.
The BBA’s Summer Jobs Program is a partnership between the BBA, the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Private Industry Council. Many thanks to the participating law firms that have hired students this year, and to the Boston Bar Foundation for funding six public interest positions through its M. Ellen Carpenter Fund.
This summer, the BBA was proud to launch a new Diversity & Inclusion Summer Fellowship Program, aimed at providing outstanding law students with critical work experience through paid summer internships in public interest offices. In the pilot year, we were proud to partner with the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts, to provide this opportunity. Funding for these positions was provided by the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), with the position at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office funded by a generous private donation, and the position at the Bankruptcy Court funded by the BBF’s Charles P. Normandin Fund.
The Fellowship saw a successful first year, with law students Anna Cardoso (Boston University School of Law) and Emaan Syed (Suffolk University Law School) contributing to the work of these offices, participating in BBA professional development programs, and meeting with attorney mentors. Read on to learn about their experiences this summer in their own words!
If your office is in interested in supporting or participating in this program, please reach out to Hannah Poor at [email protected].
End of Summer Reflection: Anna Cardoso Rising 2L, Boston University School of Law Summer Fellow, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General
This summer, I had the pleasure of interning in the Medicaid Fraud Division at Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office. My division focuses exclusively on holding providers accountable for defrauding our Medicaid system. I completed many research assignments and attended hearings, depositions, and relator interviews focusing on evidentiary, constitutional, and broader health law-related issues. Unique to my division, I was asked to pick a topic to present to my bureau, which was certainly nerve-wracking, but ended up being one of my favorite parts of the internship. I consider my presentation to be a highlight of my summer and am particularly proud of how many of the attorneys in my bureau emphasized that it was an extremely difficult topic and that I had done an excellent job. The learning curve here has been steep and challenging in the most rewarding way possible. It is difficult to put into words how much I have learned. There has not been a dull moment at this office or a day where I have not learned something new. I knew I wanted to practice in the health care space, making access to care more affordable, and my summer has affirmed my convictions. The office also had programming for interns almost every day, and I particularly enjoyed our visit to the Supreme Judicial Court.
This summer I attended the BBA’s public interest summer kickoff breakfast, a program on what it is like to practice in life sciences, and “Let’s Get Real,” a program about what it is like to be a diverse attorney in Boston. These events have helped to set realistic expectations and get to know attorneys and law students in Boston.
I cannot say enough good things about either of my mentors. I was lucky enough to have one of them, Amanda Morejon, on the same floor in a neighboring division and she has been a constant source of support and guidance this summer. Amanda has encouraged me all summer to exceed my own expectations and to trust in my intelligence and capabilities as a future attorney. My other mentor, Gina Kwon, is one of the prosecutors working on the largest opioid trafficking takedown in our office and has taught me that there are no dumb questions, and all questions are worth asking. Both my mentors are women lawyers whom I look up to and will maintain a relationship with even after this summer.
Diversity and inclusion will always be a goal that I am looking for ways to advance. Being a Latina in the legal field means that when I become an attorney, my presence as a female Latinx attorney will account for less than two percent of attorneys in the United States, according to the Hispanic National Bar Association, a number that can be disheartening at best, and frustratingly lonely at worst. Having positions like this fellowship that I was fortunate enough to receive means that Boston cares and wants to change this statistic. The sense of community and the network that I have built in this office makes me confident that Boston is changing into a better, more welcoming, and increasingly diverse place. I know that I will soon be stepping into the role of mentoring first-year law students and that doing my best work here has given me the knowledge and the credibility to help other students get where I am, and to continue to pull them up with me wherever I go next. I would like to thank everyone at the AGO, the Boston Bar Association, and the Boston Bar Foundation for making this summer possible—it has been amazing.
End of Summer Reflection: Emaan Syed Rising 3L, Suffolk University Law School Summer Fellow, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts
Through the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Summer Fellowship, I interned for Judge Melvin S. Hoffman at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston this summer. I was a judicial intern and conducted legal research and analyzed diverse issues arising under the bankruptcy code. I also drafted memoranda and observed Bankruptcy Court hearings, trials, and proceedings that occurred multiple times a week.
I was able to learn a lot about bankruptcy law, and from my courses, was able to see much of what I learned in class, in real time in court hearings. I learned that bankruptcy law ties many other aspects of law together, such as family law, real estate law, IP law, and every other possible field of law that exists. Each case heard is unique; I especially enjoyed seeing and conducting research for cases on matters that do not have much ruling or background, that require further research and understanding of bankruptcy law.
I met with my BBA mentor and discussed succeeding in my internships and my law career. I was able to learn from my mentor on how to search and narrow in on what field of law I want to ultimately work in. It was valuable to me to have a helpful mentor giving me the tools to succeed in my career and understanding my challenges as a student navigating through the legal field.
Throughout my internship, I was able to ask the judge and his clerks about questions I had about bankruptcy law or about the hearings I attended. I appreciated the insight of the judge and the clerks on all matters of bankruptcy law and litigating as an attorney.
During my internship, I attended brown bag luncheon events at the Moakley Courthouse, where all the summer interns for the federal courts were invited to discussions on several topics. It was great to mingle with other federal court interns and learn of their experiences as well.
I attended Boston Bar Association events concerning bankruptcy law due to my interest in the subject. My first event was the 29th annual Bench Meets Bar Conference. The event included many of the Bankruptcy Court judges and members of the bankruptcy bar to learn about the current and recent cases the judges were working on and analyze key issues in bankruptcy law. I got to see many attorneys that practiced bankruptcy law, along with many attorneys of the Bankruptcy Court. The event allowed me to hear the other judges’ observations on key issues in bankruptcy law.
In addition, I attended another BBA event at the Bankruptcy Court where I got to meet and talk to bankruptcy attorneys about their careers. A common experience that most bankruptcy attorneys shared was how they came to ultimately work in bankruptcy law. Most of the attorneys did not start their careers planning to go into bankruptcy law, but on their journey, found bankruptcy law and developed a passion for the subject matter.
Through my summer internship at the Bankruptcy Court, I learned there is an underlying human aspect to the law. I gained an appreciation for litigation, learning the qualities of a successful litigator and the etiquette of the court, in a fulfilling internship at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Ahead of the July 2019 Uniform Bar Exam in Massachusetts, 14 attorneys provided coaching and guidance to individuals taking the bar exam. The BBA’s Bar Exam Coaching Program matches coaches with bar applicants to support them throughout the preparation process. Coaches keep applicants on track with a study schedule and provide tips for managing time and stress.
This program focuses particularly on assisting applicants who are retaking the bar exam in Massachusetts. Through this program, we hope to provide support and community during the stressful and sometimes isolating experience of studying for the bar exam. Thank you to all the coaches who provided support this summer:
Joshua Cohn, Holland & Knight LLP Susan Corcoran, De Novo Nickeisha Davidson, Massachusetts Probation Service Emma Days, Ropes & Gray LLP Anthony Faillaci, Burns & Levinson LLP Tess Foley, WilmerHale Caitlin Gossett, Massachusetts Department of Children & Families D. Paul Koch, Jr., Finard Properties LLC Kristy Lavigne, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General Brendan Lowd, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo P.C. Yakov Malkiel, White & Case LLP Tracy Morong, Massachusetts State Ethics Commission Christina Simpson, The Law Office of Christina Simpson Conor Slattery, Conn Kavanaugh Rosenthal Peisch & Ford LLP
It’s not often attorneys can do justice while at the same time prevailing on a legal issue, particularly in a breach of privacy/emotional distress case. Recently, Attorney Steven Coren was able to accomplish both when a client was referred to Kerstein Coren & Lichtenstein LLP through the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral service. The client was a nurse at a major hospital who was hospitalized briefly in 2001 for psychiatric issues relating to her ailing marriage. She told a heart-rending tale that occurred in 2012 when she brought a post-divorce contempt action against her ex-husband over a parenting dispute involving their minor children.
During the contempt action, the sister-in-law of the plaintiff’s ex-husband accessed the plaintiff’s confidential 2001 psychiatric hospitalization records without the plaintiff’s knowledge or authorization and provided the records to the ex-husband. The sister-in-law accessed the records through her employment at a medical clinic.
The ex-husband orally communicated the contents of the plaintiff’s 2001 discharge diagnoses to a guardian ad litem (GAL), a psychotherapist appointed to investigate the parenting issue in the contempt proceeding. The ex-husband did not have the plaintiff’s consent or knowledge to obtain and communicate the information. The GAL wrote down the discharge diagnoses and included it in her report to the Court without the plaintiff’s knowledge or consent. As a Category F appointment, the GAL was required to obtain the plaintiff’s written consent to access this information and to notify the plaintiff of her intent to use it. The GAL did neither.
The plaintiff learned about the access to her confidential psychiatric records at a subsequent contempt hearing in open court. As a result of the invasion of her privacy, she was subjected to continuing embarrassment, horror, shame, anxiety, despair and dread. She also experienced physical symptoms including hair loss, lack of sleep and loss of appetite.
“I normally would not take a garden-variety HIPAA or infliction of emotional distress case because jury verdicts for emotional harm tend to be extremely low,” said Coren “However, I thought this case had great optics for building outrage among the jurors as the invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress were intentional on the part of the ex-husband and the sister-in-law, and the GAL’s conduct was unprofessional as well as illegal.” Coren admits he took the case with his heart as well as with his head. “I felt I could right a wrong as well as prosecute a legal claim for my client who could not afford to pay an attorney.” Coren agreed to take the case on a contingency agreement with no expectation that he would be compensated as there was no insurance available. “I feel that every so often it is my obligation as a legal professional to seek justice and help someone who cannot otherwise afford to pursue a claim.”
The defendants ignored all invitations to settle and a three-day jury trial was held in Boston Municipal Court in April 2019. The voir dire process was heavily utilized by Coren and was instrumental in selecting a jury that he felt was fair and impartial. The voir dire disclosed bias on the part of several prospective jurors due to the plaintiff’s psychiatric hospitalization, the reluctance of some to believe emotional distress had any monetary value and the insistence of some in applying a much higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence, and these jurors were struck for cause. Interestingly, Coren approved the inclusion of two ex-convicts on the jury during voir dire because he sensed empathy toward his client’s situation. During the damages phase of the trial, he emphasized to these jurors that fear, dread and anxiety are not controllable emotions and are very real to the person suffering from them.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the sister-in-law and ex-husband acted intentionally in inflicting emotional distress and invading the plaintiff’s privacy. The jury found them and the GAL liable for damages, which totaled $92,800 – an extraordinary amount for emotional damages
The verdict by six citizens was an incredible validation to the plaintiff who endured years of litigation pursuing the case. Coren’s reward was seeing the tears of relief and the vindication on his client’s face. She is grateful to the Boston Bar Association for referring her to an attorney who stuck with her and made sure she got the justice she deserved.
Throughout the month of July, Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) panel attorneys volunteered their time to conduct training sessions on a variety of legal topics for new staff working in the BBA and especially our new intern for the LRS department. These trainings have been instrumental in helping our staff better understand the needs of attorneys we serve and ensuring we are conducting intake and screening calls efficiently to connect members of our community with the help they need.
This is what they had to say about the training sessions:
“The LRS Trainings were so insightful both to my experience here as the LRS Intern as well as for my future career goals. After hearing from attorneys about their specific practice area, I am able to give informed referrals to callers. Coming into this internship I knew that I had a passion for Civil Rights and Torts Law. However, I did not expect to find that I am also very interested in Employment and Consumer Law, something I may not have stumbled upon until much later in life. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with practicing attorneys and learn from them, not only about what they do on a day to day basis, but also their career journeys and personal interests. Each LRS training has been an inspiring moment that continuously reaffirmed my passion to pursue law school and a career in the legal field.”- Chandler Cofield
“As the Section Programs Assistant, I have the opportunity to sit in meetings, conferences, and many different programs that are offered here at the BBA. As someone who has very limited knowledge on different areas of law, this can be intimidating and confusing. However, through the LRS trainings, I got to personally meet and talk with amazing practicing attorneys and learn so much about how the different types of law can be applied in everyday life. I have a passion for social justice and knowing your rights and how the law can work on your side is the best way to implement change.” – Jenna Kim
The trainings were organized by the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, the largest public service program of the Boston Bar Association, dedicated to helping members of the public in need of assistance connecting with attorneys. We would like to thank the following attorneys who volunteered their time to conduct training sessions for the BBA’s new staff:
· Sara Attarchi (Simons Law Office) – Criminal Law · Joel Davidson (Law Offices of Joel R. Davidson) – Social Security, Health, & Disability · Morjieta Derisier (BayState Law Group, PLLC) – Landlord/Tenant & Real Estate · Benjamin Duggan (KJC Law Firm LLC) – Employment Law · Emily Amara Gordon (Amara Law, LLC) – Immigration Law · Carolyn Martello Spaulding (Blake & Associates) – Trusts & Estates · Daniel Occena (Occena Law P.C.) – Consumer Law & Bankruptcy Law · Joana Stathi (Atwood & Cherny P.C.) – Family Law · Jeremy Weltman (Hermes, Netburn, O’Connor & Spearig P.C.) – Torts, Personal Injury & Civil Rights
If you are interested in joining the BBA Lawyer Referral Service, or becoming involved in training sessions in the future, please contact Chane Vanes at [email protected]