BBA Hosts Unemployment Benefits Training for Prospective Volunteers

Learn a new skill while doing good! On Wednesday, May 30th, the BBA will host a pro bono training session, “Donate Your Time: Represent Claimants Seeking Unemployment Benefits.”   Taught by experts from the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP) and Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), the training will guide attorneys through the complexities of the unemployment system and provide them with the information needed to represent clients at unemployment benefits hearings.  Trained volunteers will support the Pro Bono Unemployment Project, a joint initiative of VLP and GBLS.

For an insider’s preview of the Pro Bono Unemployment Project, Beyond the Billable reached out to Lynn Girton, Chief Counsel at VLP and Monica Halas, senior attorney at GBLS to learn more about what the Project accomplishes, what attorney-volunteers can expect when they donate their time, and what difference volunteers make for the clients in these cases.   

Q: What is the mission of the Pro Bono Unemployment Project?

A: Unemployed low income workers and their families need legal representation to obtain Unemployment Insurance (UI) and job training benefits.  As individuals who are unemployed cannot afford to retain the services of the private bar, pro bono representation is critical to meet this serious and largely unmet need.  Data accumulated nationally demonstrates that employers are four times as likely to be represented as claimants, and yet, when represented, claimants have a 30% greater chance of recovery.

UI benefits are a significant source of income for our clients.  The maximum benefit is currently $653 a week plus an additional $25 a week per dependent (although capped at 50% of the unemployment check).  In addition, those families whose income is 400% of poverty or less (all of our clients) are also eligible to participate in a health insurance program.  As low wage employers increasingly offer no health insurance benefits, coupled with the new health care mandate, this is an important opportunity to provide a low income family with access to non-emergency, preventative care. 

UI benefits are critical to keeping families out of poverty.  Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the receipt of UI benefits prevents up to 25% additional families from falling below the poverty line. During this economic recession where there are 6 applicants for every job, UI benefits – coupled with opportunities for job training to secure reemployment —  are more necessary than ever.

Q:  What is the time commitment and what type of support is provided to a volunteer?

A: These cases typically take no more than 10 to 15 hours of preparation (including the one hour hearing) and with experience, the time can be significantly reduced.  The area of the law is not complex, the issues are primarily fact-based, and a hearing decision is generally received within a couple of weeks. 

We have produced extensive training materials which we will provide t, we run periodic training for the bar in conjunction with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and we are also available to do a customized in-house two or three hour training at the convenience of any law firm that makes the request. By attending a training, attorneys are provided with  all the substantive legal information they need to know as well as procedural tips honed from our over thirty years of practice in this area, so lawyers are able to come up to speed very quickly.  The  GBLS Employment Law Unit is also available to answer any questions to help you in representing your clients.

Q: Can you share examples of how pro bono representation can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case?

A:  Client A

            The client worked as a cleaner. She developed health problems and her doctor instructed her not to mop floors anymore. She requested a transfer to a different floor where she would not have to mop. Such transfers had been given to other workers. The employer told the client that if she was unable to mop the floor, they did not need her any longer. The client applied for unemployment benefits and she was denied. She filed an appeal. She was represented by a VLP pro bono attorney at the hearing. Subsequently, the hearing officer reversed the determination and awarded the client all the unemployment benefits to which she was entitled.

 Client B

           This client worked as a direct care worker in a person’s home. The employer alleged that the client left the person unattended. The client said that he had left the person in the care of another person. The employer fired the client and he applied for unemployment benefits. He was denied. He filed an appeal and was subsequently represented at the hearing by a VLP pro bono attorney. The hearing officer reversed the determination and awarded the client all the unemployment benefits to which he was entitled.

If you would like to register for this training, please click here