Posts Categorized: BBA Response to COVID-19

BBA Interview with David Colarusso, Director of Suffolk University’s Legal Innovation and Technology Lab

Practitioner-in-residence Colarusso, Director of Suffolk University’s Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab, volunteered some time to catch the BBA up on the new and exciting project the lab is working on in conjunction with the ATJC’s COVID-19 Task Force–one that has the potential to change the way we access the courts entirely. 

What is the document assembly line project? 

Simply put, Colarusso describes it as an open source coding project that creates mobile friendly court forms that can be accessed on any internet device and sent directly to the court. Colarusso, together with Quinten Steenhuis, a clinical fellow in the LIT Lab, as well as a myriad of volunteers, have created a novel digital platform to change the way pro se litigants and advocates alike access the courts. This tightly knit group of volunteers has used an assembly line method (each person completing one piece of the document and then passing it to the next volunteer in the chain) to create mobile friendly court forms that can be accessed and filled out on any internet device–including the ability to sign the document. The forms themselves will be available in multiple languages and work by guiding pro se litigants through plain language interviews so pro se litigants, and/or the advocates assisting them, can easily complete necessary court forms from any computer or mobile device. The completed forms can then be sent directly to the courts for filing. No printing, no physical signing, and no clerk’s windows. 

Learn more by watching Colarusso explain the project in this short video.

How did the project come about?

The project arose from Chief Justice Gants’s call for novel ideas, and the willingness of the Trial Court to consider outside-the-box thinking to preserve access to the courts during the pandemic. The Lab and Steenhuis built upon his previous experience creating GBLS’ MADE tool as a model for how this project could function. Colarusso mobilized twitter and social media to band together over a hundred volunteers across ten time zones, and five continents to coalesce around an idea that has the ability to knock down barriers to justice. By making the code behind this novel platform open source, volunteers can hope to see this platform utilized in their own jurisdictions–with Massachusetts leading the way. This technology allows self represented litigants who may not have printers, scanners, or fax machines, available to most practitioners, to continue to file their necessary legal documents while courts remain closed. 

How can people get involved?

While this project is well on its way, it could still benefit from volunteers–especially subject matter experts like BBA members. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering please click here, or sign up through slack. You do not need to have a software or technology background, there is a job for everyone! 

BBA Interview with Heidi Alexander, Director of the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being

We caught up with Heidi Alexander, Director of the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being to learn about the committee’s latest efforts to help practitioners navigate their practices remotely and manage stress and anxiety during COVID-19.

What has the SJC Standing Committee for Lawyer Well-being seen as the most immediate need for lawyers, law students, and legal professionals as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We know that everyone is experiencing elevated stress related to this pandemic. Many of the areas of need identified in the SJC Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being Report in July 19 are now amplified. For example, one of the recommendations from the Report focuses on addressing financial duress, particularly for small firms, government, and legal aid lawyers. Many attorneys are finding themselves under significant financial pressures, out of work, having to lay off employees, and uncertain about sustainability of their firm or job. Another recommendation from the Report encourages an expansion of awareness of, education related to, and resources around lawyer well-being. There couldn’t be a more significant need for resources and services to improve lawyer well-being at this time.

What is the Committee doing to help the legal community during this time? 

The Committee is working collaboratively with its Committee members and community partners to address concerns by the legal community. To keep the public informed as to the ongoing work of the Committee and provide well-being resources, the Committee has launched a website, www.lawyerwellbeingma.org

We have launched a TechLine to help attorneys navigate technical issues that arise in operating a virtual practice. The TechLine provides attorneys and legal professionals with live one-on-one assistance in selecting, implementing, and troubleshooting technology to operate their practices. Callers receive assistance and support from their fellow lawyers who can identify with and understand the struggles. 


TechLine is available Monday through Friday. Callers should leave a message with their name, phone number, and nature of their request. A volunteer will respond by 5pm. The number is (888) 314-7714. 

More information is available here

For attorneys who need a basic starting point for how to maintain continuity of their practice while away from their office, the Committee’s Simple Remote Work Guide is a distilled summary of the bare necessities for remote practice. The Guide includes questions attorneys should answer when transitioning to remote practice as well as specific options for low-cost technology and video tutorials for easy implementation. You can find that guide here

What is your advice to practitioners to manage stress, anxiety, and promote health & well-being during these uncertain times?

First, prioritize self-care, especially now. There are loads of fantastic resources on self-care and how to manage stress during this time. Second, avoid isolation. Do your best to remain connected to or create a new community. You are not in this alone. Third, and most importantly, if you are struggling, reach out for help. If you are employed by a firm or organization, check to see if your benefits include access to an “Employee Assistance Program” (EAP). EAPs provide mental health, financial, and well-being resources to employees and their family members. If you are a state or municipal employee, you have access to the EAP, Mass4You. Furthermore, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and its Law Office Management Assistance Program  have excellent resources, provide one-on-one consultations, and support groups.  

A Guide to the Boston Resiliency Fund: A Guest Blog Post by David S. Clancy and Jonathan M. Shine

In a rapid response to the ongoing Coronavirus emergency, Boston has established a “Resiliency Fund” which is making monetary grants to applicants.

On the day of its announcement (March 16), the Fund had $10 million in contributions.[1]  The initial press release predicted that the Fund’s operation will evolve over time, but this document summarizes the basic facts now, organized into two broad categories:  Information Regarding Applications, and Information Regarding Donations

Those interested in interacting with the Fund should seek more detail from the Fund’s website and/or from the Fund itself at brf@boston.gov.

  1. Information Regarding Applications

In an “About the Fund” section of the website, the Fund describes its current focus as addressing “immediate and basic needs” in providing:  (i) food; (ii) technology to Boston public school students; and (iii) support to “first responders; front line workers; and health-care workers.”[2]

For illustration, the Fund’s grantees to date include:  Greater Boston Food Bank to expand food access for “children, families and seniors”; the Boston Public Schools ($2 million to help purchase 20,000 Chromebooks); and Boston Health Care for the Homeless to “serve those who are vulnerable or have complex needs.”[3]

The Fund predicts that it will “operate” with “a six-month horizon” but that  “the majority of its grants will be disbursed in April and May.”

At least now, the Fund is not making grants to individuals and businesses, but solely to “nonprofit partners” which are located “in the city of Boston”. [4]  A website section called “How to Submit An Interest Form” states that such organizations should:

  • Have a “demonstrated ability to quickly and efficiently serve Boston’s most vulnerable residents.”
  • “Fit[] within one of our two current focus areas.”  Here the website refers solely to the food and health-care priorities, not to the educational technology priority – the latter’s status is therefore unclear but could presumably be clarified by an interested applicant.
  • Has the ability to “[a]djust[] or expand[] service to meet the needs of Bostonians during this crisis.”
  • “Has a plan in place to implement and deliver services safely (ensuring social distance, etc.)”
  • Has the “ability to sustain services over the next 6-8 weeks.”

That same website section links to the “State of Interest Form” itself, which entails a process of answering a series of questions online.  There is a PDF “preview” of those questions here.

An organization must submit its most recent Form 990 (IRS tax return) and W-9 (Request for Taxpaper ID), and answer multiple questions about its plan, including who it serves, what neighborhoods it serves, and why “it is the most effective AND safe way to provide this service.”

Another note concerning the form:  here too, the Fund describes “two” focus areas (food and healthcare), not mentioning educational technology.  This area warrants clarification by the Fund.

  • Information Regarding Grants

The Fund’s website also contains guidance concerning donations, here.  Two notes:

  1. The Fund discourages earmarking donations for specified purposes within the Fund’s stated priorities.[5]
  2. The Fund does, however, provide instructions for making in-kind donations of medical supplies, here. (“Common Questions” — “How can I donate supplies to the City of Boston in support of first responders and other healthcare workers”).


***

David S. Clancy

In his 20-plus year career at the law firm Skadden Arps (2004-2016 as a partner), Mr. Clancy handled a wide variety of civil lawsuits in both state and federal court, both individual actions and class actions. Cases have spanned an array of industries with widely varying subject matters including alleged breach of contract, alleged sales or other misrepresentations, and employment disputes (e.g., regarding alleged trade secrets or noncompetition agreements). Mr. Clancy has also provided extensive pro bono assistance to individuals and organizations, and in 2016 won the Boston Bar Association’s President’s Award for his representation of victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in their efforts to obtain appropriate compensation from the public fund established in the aftermath of that incident (the One Fund). A former three-term member of the Board of Editors of the Boston Bar Journal, Mr. Clancy has written numerous articles on legal topics. Full bio.

Jonathan M. Shine

Over a 20 year legal career at Skadden Arps and BLA Schwartz, PC, Mr. Shine has represented clients in a diverse array of civil litigation in both state and federal courts and arbitrations before JAMS, AAA and FINRA. Such matters have spanned the fields of securities investigations and litigation (representation of mutual funds in governmental investigations, evaluation of threatened domestic and international litigation on behalf of potential plaintiffs, and sales practice arbitrations involving individual investors), intellectual property (copyright and trademark enforcement matters), employment (wage act, trade secret and non-competition matters), and general business to business contractual disputes. Through his experience as a litigator at both a larger firm and a litigation boutique, Mr. Shine can provide large firm experience and work product with small firm cost-effective attentiveness. Full bio.


[1]           https://www.boston.gov/news/boston-resiliency-fund-support-residents-most-impacted-coronavirus-pandemic

[2]           https://www.boston.gov/departments/treasury/boston-resiliency-fund (“About the Fund”)

[3]           https://www.boston.gov/departments/treasury/boston-resiliency-fund (“Grants Awarded to Date”)

[4]           https://www.boston.gov/departments/treasury/boston-resiliency-fund (“Common Questions” — “I am an individual or business which has been impacted by Covid-19.  Am I eligible for the Boston resiliency fund?”).

[5]           https://www.boston.gov/departments/treasury/boston-resiliency-fund (“Common Questions” — “Can I target my donation to a specific interest area?”).

Local Law Firms Raise Their Hand to Help Boston Public Schools During COVID-19 Crisis

On Monday, March 16th, Jeff Mullan, partner at Foley Hoag, received a text from a City of Boston Policy Advisor asking if his firm could assist the Boston Public Schools (BPS) with a copying project. The usual vendors were unable to complete the project of printing take-home packets for students, which were needed urgently – the schools were preparing to close in accordance with the Governor’s COVID-19 recommendations. Mullan’s initial reaction was to tell the advisor no problem – how many packets did they need?  “Twelve thousand packets of seventy-five pages each,” was the response he received. And they needed it the following day. The schools were set to close on Tuesday, March 17th, and they needed these packets printed and delivered in less than a day so that the students could take them home.

Mullan knew that even if Foley Hoag had the paper, they couldn’t turn this project around that quickly. So, he reached out to the Managing Partners at his firm, Jeff Collins and Ken Leonetti, to see if they had thoughts on how to scale up their efforts. Collins suggested that they increase their capacity for the project by reaching out to a leadership group of the twenty largest law firms in Boston for assistance.

Over a year ago, leaders at the twenty largest law firms in Boston started meeting to discuss how they could pool their efforts and collaborate on projects in the Boston area. Despite the fact that they are direct competitors, these twenty law firms also saw the opportunity inherent in their combined forces and began meeting quarterly to discuss shared initiatives. Jane Goldstein, co-managing partner of Ropes & Gray’s Boston office and a member of the coalition, helped lead the collaboration between the law firms and BPS to get take-home materials printed for the students of Boston.  

Goldstein explained that once the call was sent out to the group, multiple firms jumped in and offered to help with the project. Six firms which had crews on site and responded first – Ropes & Gray, Foley Hoag, Mintz Levin, Seyfarth Shaw, WilmerHale, and Wolf Greenfield – were recruited to help with printing and packaging the twelve thousand packets and sending them on to the schools. Several others among the group offered to help as well.

When asked about the actual process of preparing the packets, Goldstein noted that it was truly gratifying work for the people at her firm. Even though they had just transitioned most of the office to remote work, the skeleton crew left at the office was more than happy to help.

“The community of lawyers in this city care deeply about the well-being of families and their children. We immediately realized how important these packets would be to the continuation of structured learning at home,” Goldstein told the BBA. “I’m proud to see firms work together in partnership with public institutions. This presented an opportunity for our staff to give back to others in a meaningful way,” said Goldstein.  

The partnership between these law firms and the Boston Public Schools to prepare materials for students during the COVID-19 closure is a clear example of how the private sector stands ready and willing to assist the government and the community during times of crisis. Both Goldstein and Mullan stated that they’d be happy to help the city again. “On behalf of the Foley Hoag team, I am glad that the Mayor’s office reached out to us and equally pleased that we were able to make this small contribution to the challenges the City is facing at this time,” Mullan affirmed.  “We look forward to finding additional ways that we can be of assistance.”

Massachusetts Access To Justice Commission Forms COVID-19 Task Force

The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (ATJ) has convened a COVID-19 Task Force to identify the emergent legal needs of the community and to address newly arising barriers to justice as the result of the ongoing health crisis. The Task Force is working rapidly to tackle Chief Justice Gants’ call for coordination in addressing evolving challenges to court access and relief in a time when being physically present in court is impossible. To that end, the Commission is also focused on disseminating clear and accurate court information while ensuring that there is equal access to the court while it operates remotely.

Former BBA President J.D. Smeallie is serving as the BBA’s liaison to the Task Force, and is identifying ways the BBA can further support the ATJ Commission’s goals of strengthening the civil legal services community and increasing the number of attorneys providing pro bono representation. Last week, the Task Force partnered with the BBA to distribute a survey to all Boston Bar Foundation grantees to help understand the needs of these legal service organizations, and how the private bar can help. This was part of a larger coordinated effort between the BBA, MBA, and MLAC. 

Once this data is collected, the BBA will be able to offer ways for its members to best connect with available opportunities that assist the community during this time.

Look out for future updates on the important work of the ATJ COVID-19 Task Force.