Memorial Day 2012: Looking Back at a Year of Legal Assistance

On Memorial Day, people throughout the Commonwealth and the country paused to remember and honor the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  Here at Beyond the Billable, we felt compelled to look back at the initiatives created to assist the service men and women of Massachusetts by the lawyer-volunteers in our community.    

Seeking pro bono legal services for the families of troops from Massachusetts being deployed in increasing numbers for lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army National Guard  approached the Boston Bar Association (BBA) in 2009. Under the leadership of then BBA President, Jack Regan,  the BBA developed an ad hoc committee to analyze the need for these services and to determine how the BBA might help.  The committee was chaired by Bill Sinnott, Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston and a retired Marine colonel, and included people with extensive military, pro bono, and/or legal services experience. After many months of reaching out to community organizations and conducting research, the committee recommended the creation of the Veterans’ Initiative and the Delivery of Legal Services Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee.

Since then, the BBA has supported the following programs – all of which seek to address the unique legal needs of military personnel, veterans and their families. 

The Yellow Ribbon Project

Lawyer volunteers from a variety of practice areas serve as educators at Yellow Ribbon events — pre and post deployment informational sessions open to members of all five branches of the military. At the Yellow Ribbon events, BBA volunteers provide legal advice to military personnel, veterans and their families throughout the state in areas of law that include: bankruptcy, consumer debt & credit, family, financial education, labor and employment and trusts and estates.  Lawyer volunteers have also developed teaching materials and power points presented and distributed at these events.

Financial Education Veterans Initiative

Veterans and families of veterans are experiencing financial hardship brought about by deployment and the reduction in income that deployment may result.  In addition, many veterans are experiencing financial hardship for reasons relating to the current downturn in the economy.  The Yellow Ribbon Project has expanded to include a financial education outreach program.  Through the Bankruptcy Section of the BBA, lawyer volunteers provide speakers to veterans’ organizations in Massachusetts on the topic of personal finance, including managing credit and mortgage modification programs.   These programs are designed to increase the financial knowledge of servicemen and women and their families.   Members of the Section are also working with the Bankruptcy Court to reach a broader audience.

Military Legal Helpline

In December 2010, the Delivery of Legal Services Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee created the Military Legal Helpline to connect military personnel, veterans and their families to pro bono and low fee attorneys.  This program represents a partnership of the BBA, Legal Advocacy & Resource Center (LARC), Shelter Legal Services and Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP).  The Helpline is housed and operated by LARC.  Callers are referred to VLP, Shelter Legal Services and the BBA Lawyer Referral Service based on income guidelines.  

To support the Helpline, the John A. Perkins Fund of the Boston Bar Foundation provided funding for the creation of an informational brochure that is widely distributed by our partner organizations.

BBA Lawyer Referral Service Military Panels

The BBA Lawyer Referral Service is committed to serving military members, veterans, and their families. Since February 2010, BBA lawyers have assisted more than 4,500 troops and their families from MA National Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Reserve. The Boston Bar Lawyer Referral Service has attorneys who certify that they meet certain experience requirements and have completed specialized training to help military members, veterans, and their families with legal issues in a variety of practice areas, including Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, Family Law, and Trusts & Estates.

To reach the BBA Lawyer Referral Service please call (617)742 0625 or (800)552-7046 Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm; Friday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. You can also email us at [email protected] or visit us on the web at www.bostonbarlawyer.org.

If you are interested in learning more about these projects, please contact Stephanie Lee, Public Service Programs Coordinator at [email protected].