Posts Categorized: Pro Bono Spotlight

Pro Bono Month Spotlight: Sullivan Supports the Transformative Power of Education in Dorchester Through Longstanding Pro Bono Partnerships

Of the many pro bono relationships maintained by Boston-based law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP (“Sullivan”), those with College Bound Dorchester, Inc. and the Neighborhood House Charter School are the longest-standing.

In 1965, former corporate partner Charlie Cabot helped establish College Bound Dorchester (then known as Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, Inc.) by merging three settlement houses (Denison House, Little House and Dorchester House) with the goal of better serving the Dorchester community and its minority, immigrant and low-income populations.  Over the years, College Bound has included many additional programs including Kit Clark Senior Services, a summer camp, an alternative middle school and a food pantry.  In the mid-1990s, College Bound became the incubator of one of the first charter schools in Massachusetts, the Neighborhood House Charter School.

College Bound’s current focus is on transforming neighborhoods through education, particularly those affected by generational cycles of poverty, street level violence and a widening economic inequality gap.  Its ‘Boston Uncornered’ solution engages gang-involved or formerly incarcerated youth and turns them into positive leaders in their neighborhoods by training them as trusted peer mentors.  They in turn support program participants who receive educational supports and a weekly stipend that affords them the space to pursue educational opportunities to help them turn away from the streets for good.  Michelle Caldeira, Senior Vice President of Strategy & External Affairs at College Bound Dorchester, cited the program’s continued success.  They have served over 500 young people in the city each year with a 70% college matriculation rate and a reduced recidivism rate of 91%.

“We are grateful for the significant dollar value of their pro-bono work, we are indebted to Sullivan & Worcester for all the additional ways in which they support College Bound and Uncornered – serving as officers on our board of directors, providing guidance on personnel matters, shepherding the sale or acquisition of capital assets, amplifying our work and even filing copyright applications. I also want to note David Guadagnoli’s work on managing the partnership always being available to answer a quick question or dig deep on thorny issues, doing it all with amazing efficiency and a sense of humor,” said Caldeira.

In the Pope’s Hill neighborhood of Dorchester stands the K-7th grade campus of NHCS, whose mission is to provide students with the skills and support they need to graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education on the path to achieve life success.  The School now serves over 700 students, the majority of whom are drawn from one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods.  Until recently a K-8th grade school, NHCS is in the process of expanding through to the 12th grade.

“Working with these organizations offers many, if not all, of our attorneys the opportunity to do pro bono work within their respective areas of expertise, which is rare among pro bono clients,” said David Guadagnoli, a Tax Partner at Sullivan.

For over half a century and at least 21,000 pro bono hours later, Sullivan remains a fierce champion for and partner of both entities.  Guadagnoli, who currently serves on the Board of College Bound Dorchester and leads Sullivan’s relationship for both entities, explains how this unique partnership has provided opportunities for lawyers throughout the firm, regardless of practice area, to contribute pro bono services and make a unique impact in the community.

With the same types of challenges faced by for-profit clients, Sullivan has remained steadfastly committed to both organizations, in large part because each offers virtually every Sullivan attorney the opportunity to contribute in their own specialty area – corporate lawyers have rewritten bylaws, managed filings, overseen restructurings and provided guidance in critical areas of governance; real estate attorneys have bought and sold properties and negotiated leases; financing lawyers have helped each organization finance and refinance short and long term debt; tax attorneys have helped each organization maintain their tax-exempt status and avoid tax traps; employment attorneys have supported the management teams with HR support and advice; litigators have defended each organization as needed; intellectual property attorneys have helped with trademark and copyright issues; and benefits attorneys have assisted in ensuring that each organization offers a robust menu of benefit offerings.  In addition to pro bono legal work, several Sullivan attorneys have served as directors, trustees and clerks of each of these organization through the years.

Molly Stearns, Director of Strategic Projects at NHCS, says that “Sullivan has become our ‘downtown home,’” supplying meeting space for the school leadership in addition to thousands of hours of pro bono work and service.

“We are so grateful that Neighborhood House Charter School has benefited from an extraordinary 25-year pro bono partnership with Sullivan.  Their advice on matters ranging from governance, to real estate transactions, to personnel matters, to employee benefits has been invaluable.  Sullivan attorneys have served as ad hoc members of various Board committees and presented to our middle schoolers about the legal profession on Career Day.  In ways large and small, Sullivan has helped Neighborhood House sustain a 25-year track record of success.  It’s an honor to have gotten to know so many wonderful lawyers at Sullivan along the way.”

As these two organizations remain committed to supporting those in need of opportunities, they have each found a steadfast partner and friend in Sullivan.

Celebrate Pro Bono Month at the BBA!

Clients receive day-of assistance on eviction day through the Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program

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.”

At the annual Pro Bono Recruitment Fair & Open House, attorneys and law students meet representatives from local legal services organizations to learn about pro bono opportunities

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!

In April, BBA members learned about how to represent veterans pro bono in discharge upgrade cases.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pro Bono Spotlight: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

When it comes to taking on an immigration case, an in-house legal department may not have the same resources at its disposal as a law firm would. But that didn’t stop Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts from taking on an innovative pro bono project that would help young undocumented immigrants in Greater Boston.

Assistant General Counsel Esty R. Lobovits proposed the program, a partnership with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), in early 2017. Since then, fifteen staff members in the company’s Law Department have collaborated with colleagues across the organization to represent six unaccompanied children in their deportation proceedings. With mentorship and training from KIND attorneys, Lobovits co-leads the initiative with Assistant General Counsel Brandon Clippinger.

An “unaccompanied child” refers to a minor who entered the country illegally and without a parent or legal guardian. Most of the children that KIND works with are intercepted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border, at which point they are detained. The next step is for federal immigration officials to reunite the child with a relative currently living in the United States who is able to provide for the child’s basic needs. The process of identifying such a relative can become complicated if the child’s next of kin is undocumented as well.

Once the child is released, they are officially going through deportation proceedings. Lobovits, her colleagues, and their partners at KIND work to prove their clients meet the criteria to stay in the United States legally and pursue a path to citizenship.

Most commonly, that means applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). To qualify, the client must be under 18, must have entered the country without a parent or legal guardian, and must be a victim of abandonment, abuse or neglect in his or her home country. Another route is for the child to apply for asylum in the United States.

“It’s a lengthy process – one that starts out in state court, goes on to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proceedings, and ends up in federal immigration court. We have KIND mentors for the cases, who can answer questions, review a document, and act as a general resource. But we are preparing all the documents and directly representing the kids in court,” Lobovits said.

Because the majority of the children KIND works with are from Central America, thoroughly preparing these cases requires English-Spanish translation. So Lobovits and her colleagues have turned to their colleagues in AZULatinx, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s employee resource group promoting diversity and inclusion for Latino/Latina employees.

“Many of our colleagues in AZULatinx are immigrants themselves or have family members that are immigrants from these countries, so they felt a close personal connection to these kids, their families and their struggle,” Lobovits said.

In the Law Department, nine lawyers, and six paralegals and administrative staff make up the five case teams that are representing six children in their proceedings. Several of these cases are currently in Probate & Family Court, the first step in a process that could take years, Lobovits said.

“Working with KIND has been a great experience.  Our clients have overcome incredibly challenging circumstances to get to where they are today, and their situation remains precarious.  This work feels so meaningful because it has the potential to help our clients achieve a future that is safer, more stable, and filled with more opportunity than they would otherwise have,” Clippinger said.

In addition to the pro bono work of Blue Cross’s legal team which Clippinger coordinates, employees company-wide are encouraged to participate in public service projects through Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Corporate Citizenship program. The numerous options for giving back include a service day, youth mentoring programs, a sabbatical program for BCBS employees to work at a nonprofit, and training to help prepare employees to serve on nonprofit boards.

“It’s really wonderful as a lawyer to be able to have an opportunity to impact a kid’s life,” Lobovits said. “It wouldn’t really be possible for these kids to have opportunities in their home countries because of what they have dealt with, and it’s especially meaningful to be able to give back to my community and improve the lives of children living right here in Greater Boston.”

Pro Bono Spotlight: Ropes & Gray

A name means a lot.

Generally, a name is the first piece of information we give another person when we meet them. An untold number of records and documents are attached to our names, in addition to less tangible things like our identity and our sense of self.

So when a transgender person wishes to legally change their name, and the corresponding gender marker on all of their legal documents, getting it done means a lot. That’s why attorneys at Ropes & Gray have partnered with GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) to start a clinic to help transgender clients navigate the process of transitioning on paper.

Over 300 transgender individuals and parents of transgender children have been served by the clinic since its founding in November. Attorneys help these clients fill out the appropriate paperwork to change names and gender markers on documents like a driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, mortgage title, insurance records, voter registration and more.

This change is significant for many reasons, both symbolic and practical. Emily Oldshue, an associate in Ropes & Gray’s capital markets group, has been involved with the clinic since its inception, and was recently named one of the National LGBT Bar Association’s Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40. She said many clients, or parents on behalf of their children, are looking for a name and gender marker change on paper to facilitate other processes. An application to summer camp, a school, or a job could be held up pending the applicant’s documentation updates.

“The way I think of it is, ‘What it would be like to go out and have to present an ID that’s totally out of step with who you are, fundamentally?” Oldshue said. “Being out of step with one’s identity affects your life in various ways. Every day, you open up your mailbox, and it’s like getting mail for a totally different person. That creates a lot of dissonance for people.”

Oldshue said Ropes & Gray attorneys have worked with many minors and their parents, and many students who are transitioning during college. But the overall group who has come to the clinic is extremely socioeconomically diverse.

“My clients have ranged from 60-year-old veterans, to children, to artists, to programmers, and to people born in many different states and different countries. It has been eye-opening to see how people from such disparate backgrounds still face many of the same problems in their experience as transgender people, and it has been rewarding to be of service to them,” Gabriel Gillmeyer, a corporate associate at Ropes, said.

Oldshue said the firm was “inundated” with referrals from GLAD when the program started up in the fall, but now the attorneys who work at the clinic have developed a good workflow and are looking at ways to expand the initiative beyond New England.

“The great thing about it from a staffing perspective is that it’s just walking people through a process, which is very quick, especially compared to a lot of the other things that attorneys are doing. It’s something you can help a lot of people within four to six hours on average,” she said.

But even in that sort of time, the difference an attorney can make lasts a lifetime. Kristi Jobson, a  business & securities litigation associate, shared the following story:

“A minor client born in Oklahoma and adopted at birth by a New England couple sought to change her birth certificate. Oklahoma does not have a set process for amending the gender marker on an individual’s birth certificate. Initially, the client’s mother and I were each told that Oklahoma would not change a birth certificate gender marker for a minor (and typically declined applications from adults seeking amended birth certificates). After many, many calls to the Division of Vital Records, the client’s mom finally got a sympathetic administrator on the phone. We secured a court order recognizing a change in gender, and directing the Oklahoma Division of Vital Records from the child’s state of residence. We presented that court order and the child’s change of name order to the Division and received an amended birth certificate. The Division informed us that the client is the first minor to receive an amended Oklahoma birth certificate of this type.”

Oldshue said attorneys across various offices at the firm have set up a network for sharing resources pertaining to best practices in handling these types of cases. She said she and other volunteers who have been with the program from the beginning are grateful for the institutional support they have received from every corner of Ropes & Gray.

“I spend a lot of time on (the Transgender ID Project), but there’s no way I can respond to the 200 emails a day that we get. The organic leadership from the associates and the response and support we’ve gotten from the firm as a whole has been really incredible to see. It’s a neat moment to be at Ropes,” Oldshue said.

Pro Bono Spotlight: DLA Piper


Beyond the Billable is introducing a new feature: Pro Bono Spotlight! In this monthly column, we will catch up with law firms that have dedicated time and resources to public service and pro bono projects.

For our first Pro Bono Spotlight, we spoke to DLA Piper Partner Geoff Howell, who has gotten a team of attorneys at the firm involved with the Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) Housing Clinic on Mondays. The Clinic is designed to help pro se litigants better advocate for themselves in housing court.

What inspired DLA Piper and you personally to get involved with the Housing Clinic? Can you talk about some of the benefits to clients, volunteer attorneys, and the court system as a whole?

I am on the GBLS board and have been talking with them for a long time about the possibility of creating a pro bono project that would allow us to work together. DLA Piper encourages its offices to create “signature” projects that can involve everyone in the office, address issues that are of importance to the community, and have a lasting impact. We packaged together a group of GBLS-related pro bono projects, including the housing clinic, to create a “signature” project in the office.

The benefits of doing this project are many, including providing our attorneys with an opportunity to see how GBLS operates on a day-to-day basis. In addition, of course, a lawyer has an ethical duty to provide pro bono services.  Our lawyers prefer to fulfill that obligation by giving back to the community in which we work. We also value the opportunity to give young attorneys  the opportunity to engage in client counseling. Another ancillary benefit is that the participants in the clinic are better able to represent themselves pro se on their day in housing court, which hopefully helps streamline the court process.

What is the format of the program?

The clinic participants are people who have called or walked into GBLS for assistance on an eviction matter, and have already received a summons and complaint. They are people GBLS cannot take as clients because of staffing constraints. Attendees come to the clinic, which takes 3-4 hours, and they are then prepared to file paperwork in response to the complaint and to represent themselves on the day of their court appearance.

Is there an anecdote from a particular case that you think speaks to the benefit of GBLS’s Housing Clinic and programs like it?

It is very common to encounter a situation where the tenant simply does not understand his or her rights and cannot easily defend against the eviction, or, alternatively, counterclaim to create the leverage needed for a negotiated settlement that will allow them to stay at home. For example, some tenants do not realize they can push for a reduction in rent and/or damages due to bad conditions in the apartment that the landlord must remedy by law.

This week, we helped an elderly woman with dementia build her case so that she can, at worst, appeal for the equitable right to extend the period prior to the effective date of any eviction. At best, she will be able to get the court to require the landlord to adjust its rules to accommodate her disability, which should permit her to continue to stay in her apartment. She was assisted by a social worker, which, unfortunately, is often not the case for the clients of the clinic.

Why would you encourage an attorney in your firm to get involved in this particular partnership between GBLS and DLA Piper?

It is a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of the housing crisis in the city, counsel clients who really need the help, and assist GBLS. It is also an honor and a privilege to work with the GBLS housing attorneys, who are the very best in the business. Barbara Zimbel, Jay Rose, Mac Mcreight and their whole team have been fantastic teachers, hosts and mentors to us.

Why would you encourage attorneys in general to take on pro bono cases?

We have an ethical duty to engage in pro bono and a moral obligation to support organizations like GBLS In addition, the work is rewarding, the clients are appreciative, and it helps attorneys hone their practice skills.

What else should people know about this program?

We hope to enlist other law firms in the city into taking clinic days each month. The clinic runs each Monday and currently GBLS staffs most of them. It would be great to have outside firms handle them all, with minimal supervision from GBLS. That would free up more GBLS time to handle more complicated housing cases and matters. We also refer clients to the BBA’s Lawyer for a Day program in the event that they are going to be appearing in Boston Housing Court, making the programs a good compliment to one another.

Firms interested in participating should feel free to contact me or Thanos Matthai of this office with questions and to get connected to GBLS. I also must give Thanos full credit for his role as the co-leader of our firm’s effort. He has been a great supporter of GBLS and terrific presenter of the clinic.