Posts Categorized: Pro Bono

Use Pro Bono to Build Your Practice

The current legal job market is one of the toughest the field has ever seen. The need for pro bono legal services continues to grow. More and more new lawyers are starting their own firms and looking for ways to develop their legal skills. Is there a way to reconcile all of these demands? Come to Building Your Practice Through Pro Bono and find out how three new lawyers have done just that.

Here is just a bit of what you will learn from these attorneys:

Saccardi, ChrisChristopher Saccardi, The Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi 

I started my landlord-tenant practice by volunteering through the BBA Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court Program. My first trial was a pro bono case that I accepted on the morning of trial. While I was moderately terrified to be conducting a trial with very little experience, I soon realized that my client was very grateful to have any attorney representing her, even one with limited experience. And even more surprising, the judge was also happy to deal with an attorney during the trial as opposed to a pro se litigant. Because I was clearly inexperienced, the judge was extra patient with me and as a result, not only was I able to help out a deserving client but I learned a great deal through the experience.

As I gained experience through pro bono cases, I started to build up my own caseload of paying clients, drawing upon what I learned through volunteering and taking advantage of the network of mentors and colleagues I had built up through my work.

Thomas Beauvais, Attorney at Law 

Once my license arrived in the mail, I started the process of opening my practice. In my brief time networking with other solos, I have found most have difficulty with the business side of the practice: how to get enough clients, what to charge those clients, and where to meet them. My biggest obstacle was the product itself, what area of law to practice.

I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to practice in criminal law, family law or personal injury. Not that there aren’t very deserving clients in those areas, or that there aren’t some truly amazing attorneys practicing this law, I just knew it wasn’t for me. I did, however, want to litigate. Looking back at my list of eliminations, one might notice the Venn Diagram of my options was rather narrow. From my perspective at the time, there was no overlap. Nevertheless, I began looking for pro bono opportunities to keep myself busy. Thankfully, I came across Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). Every Wednesday, VLP hosts a Fair Debt Collection Clinic at the Boston Municipal Court. Not only would they allow any attorney with a free Wednesday morning to actually represent clients in a civil litigation setting, but they train them to do it well. After my first appearance, I was hooked.

Silber, AlisonAlison Silber, Law Offices of Alison Silber

I have a large VLP caseload—three cases at a time plus I mentor two other volunteers—and, in return, the VLP staff often answer questions for me about my non-VLP cases. They also provide me templates of motions/Proposed findings/etc. for my non-VLP cases.

In addition to taking cases with VLP, their lunches are a great opportunity to network and bounce ideas off of more experienced attorneys. I attend the large lunches whenever I can, plus VLP hosts a small, monthly Family Law brownbag that I find invaluable. I have developed two mentors from that circle. Each time I come with a list of questions from my non-VLP cases, and they always get answered.

Click here for more information and to register for Building Your Practice Through Pro Bono, January 23 at 12:30 pm.

A Sneak Peek of the Year Ahead

As 2012 comes to a close, we begin to shift our focus to the New Year with anticipation. For those of you looking to get more involved and give back to the Greater Boston Community in 2013, the BBA is offering a number of public service trainings and programs in January to give you a head start. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

•    Receive Limited Assistance Referral Certification at the training on January 9th from 3-4:30 pm. You can sign up for the certification here. This program will certify participants as LAR attorneys and teach them the basics on going into court for a single event in a case. The training will be followed by two separate breakout sessions on Family and Probate Law and Land Court. You can sign up for the Probate and Family Court session here or the Land Court session here.

•    Attend the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program training on January 14th from 4-6 pm. The program is partnership between the BBA and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts and teaches high school students how to make smart financial decisions. This opportunity offers volunteers of all backgrounds an opportunity to get involved in the community by teaching classes on topics that include personal finance, budgeting and using credit. The time commitment is just a few hours but the impact on these students is substantial. Sign up for the training here; however, the training is not mandatory.

•    Join the New Lawyers and Tax Sections for an accelerated training session for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program on January 16th from 4-8 pm. The program is coordinated locally by the Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition and annually trains volunteers to prepare income tax returns for low income taxpayers at community sites in the greater Boston area. No previous experience is required and non-attorneys are welcome to participate. Please note that volunteers will need to complete the certification test separately. Please sign up for the training here.

•    Learn how to build your practice while helping your community at the upcoming “Building Your Practice Through Pro Bono” event on January 23rd from 12:30- 1:30 pm. Please sign up here.

•    Join the Bankruptcy Public Service Committee for the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Training on January 24th from 4-7 pm. The program will cover the basics of preparing and filing a Chapter 7 consumer bankruptcy case for a pro bono debtor. The topics covered will include pre-filing considerations, preparation of the petition, schedules and statements, the 341 meeting of creditors, practice pointers and advice about handling a pro bono consumer bankruptcy case. Please sign up here.

For more information on the programs, please contact Katie D’Angelo, Public Service Programs Coordinator at [email protected].

Public Service Year in Photos

In January 2012, the John & Abigail Adams Benefit raised over $600,000. That amount helped to fund grants to 24 Massachusetts community organizations providing legal services in areas such as immigration, domestic violence and homelessness.

Volunteer lawyers and law students help unrepresented tenants and landlords with a range of services, from information, and advice for full representation in eviction proceedings.  Since May 1999, an estimated 12,000 volunteers have assisted more than 14,700 individuals. Joanna Allison Staff Attorney at the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Chris Saccardi, Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi at the Boston Housing Court.

At the BBA Lawyer for a Day in the Boston Housing Court, volunteer lawyers and law students helped unrepresented tenants and landlords with a range of services — from information and advice to full representation in eviction proceedings. Since May 1999, an estimated 12,000 volunteers have assisted more than 14,700 individuals. Joanna Allison Staff Attorney at the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Chris Saccardi, Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi at the Boston Housing Court.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley spoke to East Boston High School students as part of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, a joint program of the Boston Bar Association and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley spoke to East Boston High School students as part of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, a joint program of the Boston Bar Association and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Emily Hodge, Choate, Hall & Stewart, teaches students about the importance of due process and access to justice at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. In May 2012, 28 volunteers taught 580 students at 5 different schools about the field of law.

Emily Hodge, Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP, as part of Law Day in the Schools taught students about the importance of due process and access to justice at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. In May 2012, 28 volunteers taught 580 students at 5 different schools about the field of law.

The Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), is the BBA’s largest public service program, with a specific commitment to reaching historically underserved populations. The LRS Program connects callers in need of legal assistance with qualified help from private attorneys, legal services agencies, government offices and community programs.

The Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), is the BBA’s largest public service program, with a specific commitment to reaching historically underserved populations. The LRS Program connects callers in need of legal assistance with qualified help from private attorneys, legal services agencies, government offices and community programs.

In its ninth year of producing young public interest leaders, the Public Interest Leadership Program selected an outstanding class of 14 up-and-coming leaders from the largest-ever applicant pool. The 2012-2013 class of the BBA's Public Interest Leadership Program. L-R: Omar F. Gonzalez-Pagan, Staci Rubin, Benton B. Bodamer, Christopher T. Saccardi, Eric A. Haskell, Julia E. Devanthéry, Jacqueline Silva Anchondo, Emily F. Hodge, Meghan D. H. Walsh Raquel Webster and Daniel M. Routh

In its ninth year of producing young public interest leaders, the Public Interest Leadership Program selected an outstanding class of 14 up-and-coming leaders from the largest-ever applicant pool. The 2012-2013 class of the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program. L-R: Omar F. Gonzalez-Pagan, Staci Rubin, Benton B. Bodamer, Christopher T. Saccardi, Eric A. Haskell, Julia E. Devanthéry, Jacqueline Silva Anchondo, Emily F. Hodge, Meghan D. H. Walsh Raquel Webster and Daniel M. Routh.

The Mayor’s Youth Council, a partnership between the BBA, Mayor’s Office and Northeastern University, gives young people the opportunity to reach out to other Boston teens. The BBA provides the Mayor’s Youth Council lawyer-mentors. Lisa Goodheart, Past President of the BBA with Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the 2012 Mayor’s Youth Council Reception at Northeastern University.

The Mayor’s Youth Council, a partnership between the BBA, the Mayor’s Office and Northeastern University, gives young people the opportunity to reach out to other Boston teens. The BBA provides the Mayor’s Youth Council lawyer-mentors. Lisa Goodheart, Past President of the BBA with Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the 2012 Mayor’s Youth Council Reception at Northeastern University.

Larry DiCara, a partner at Nixon Peabody and former member and president of the Boston City Council conducts a mock City Council hearing with the 2012 Summer Jobs students. L-R: Tatenda Mundeke, Aubrey Griffin, Raymond Cen, Ashley Dixon, and Samantha Argon.

Larry DiCara, a partner at Nixon Peabody and former President of the Boston City Council conducted a mock City Council hearing with the 2012 Summer Jobs students. L-R: Tatenda Mundeke, Aubrey Griffin, Raymond Cen, Ashley Dixon, and Samantha Argon.

At the 4th Annual Pro Bono Fair for Attorneys and Law Students sponsored by BBA and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service, Sarah Sherman-Stokes of the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, a Boston Bar Foundation Grantee, explains the pro bono opportunities available in Greater Boston.

At the 4th Annual Pro Bono Fair for Attorneys and Law Students sponsored by BBA and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service, Sarah Sherman-Stokes of the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, a Boston Bar Foundation Grantee, explained the pro bono opportunities available in Greater Boston.

BBA President James D. Smeallie talks to 8th and 9th graders at Quincy Upper School during the Principal for A Day program on Tuesday, November 13th. The program allowed public and private sector leaders to better understand the improvements and remaining challenges in the Boston public school system.

BBA President James D. Smeallie talked with 8th and 9th graders at Quincy Upper School during the Principal for A Day program on Tuesday, November 13th. The program allowed public and private sector leaders to better understand improvements and remaining challenges in the Boston public school system.

Steve Stein, Executive Director of Boston Debate League conducts a training for BBA volunteers to be judges at debate tournaments. The BBA entered a partnership with Boston Debate League earlier this year.

Steve Stein, Executive Director of Boston Debate League trained BBA volunteers to be judges at debate tournaments. The BBA entered into a partnership with Boston Debate League earlier this year.

BBA Past President Renee Landers (Suffolk Law School) presented GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley with the Beacon Award honoring Diversity & Inclusion for their work as lawyers in advancing same sex marriage. The Boston Bar Association’s third annual Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion took place on November 13 at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.

BBA Past President Renee Landers (Suffolk Law School) presented GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley with the Beacon Award honoring Diversity & Inclusion for their work as lawyers in advancing same sex marriage. The Boston Bar Association’s third annual Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion took place on November 13 at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.

Giving Back to Those Who Have Given So Much to Us

A few weeks ago, I volunteered at the legal clinic at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home and had the privilege of meeting a former World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific.  My role was minor, as a staff attorney from Shelter Legal Services explained each of the legal documents in question.  During this process, the client would intermittently interject with stories of his life and family which will stay with me for a lifetime.  He shared his delight at being selected for the military band thinking he would not see combat, but then laughed as he told us that they, “shipped us off to the front anyway.”  As I left the building, I couldn’t help but think how times are different and how lucky I am to be a lawyer.  I felt privileged to meet these remarkable folks and help them, if only for a short time.

I’ve learned through my pro bono experiences with service members that they often have a lot bigger issues on their minds than just the legal issue in front of us and we need to be patient as attorneys. As a volunteer working with service members, I have been confronted with complex socioeconomic issues which are a different challenge from my day-to-day practice. Every time I take a case I always come away with a new appreciation for the service they provide us and am reminded to always be more patient with my clients. I think that these experiences have helped me to manage my other clients with more patience and empathy.

I found opportunities to help service members through the BBA’s Yellow Ribbon Events and through Shelter Legal Services, a non-profit funded in part by the Boston Bar Foundation.

When volunteering with Shelter Legal Services or at a Yellow Ribbon Event, you are supported by the experts for the entirety of the volunteer session.  There is no need for formal training; you just need to have an open mind and a willingness to serve those who risked their lives for us.

To find out more about the Yellow Ribbon Events or Shelter Legal Services please contact Katie D’Angelo at [email protected].

McLaughlin, BrianBrian McLaughlin is the owner and sole proprietor of the Law Offices of Brian McLaughlin, specializing in the areas of education and family law. He is a Board Member at Shelter Legal Services and is a Yellow Ribbon panel attorney for the BBA.

Three Ways to Give Back

In this season of reflection and gratitude, many people look for ways to give back. Here are a few upcoming opportunities to get more involved in the community:

(1)    Participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and help low and moderate-income taxpayers fill out tax returns and offer consultations on special credits, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly. You can learn more about how to get involved at the upcoming VITA information session.

(2)    Teach high school students across Massachusetts about making informed and effective decisions regarding their finances through educational and experiential opportunities in the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy program. You can teach students about credit cards, checking accounts, budgeting, and more.

(3)    Hire a local high school student for an 8-week internship at your law firm through our Summer Jobs program.  Help students learn about the field of law and gain career experience.

Visit the Public Services Programs page to learn about additional opportunities in the community. For more information on the programs, please contact Katie D’Angelo, Public Service Programs Coordinator at 617-778-1914 or [email protected].

The Fight Starts Somewhere

On November 13, the Boston Bar Association will have the honor of presenting its third annual Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)  and the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General (AG). They will be honored for their work in advancing marriage equality, a civil rights battle thathas its origins well before DOMA. But more on that in a moment.

The combined efforts of both GLAD and the AG’s Office have brought together an impressive network of lawyers to advance one of the most significant civil rights issues in recent history.  What’s particularly meaningful for us is that the two honorees engaged the legal community as an advocate for greater Diversity and Inclusion both in Massachusetts and the nation.

This fight for civil rights for gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts could be seen in a fundamental way as starting with a single pro bono case from the mid ‘80’s,  Babets v. Johnston. It began with The Boston Globe breaking a story about two brothers in the foster care system placed with a gay couple, Babets and Jean. The very same day the story broke, the Dukakis administration removed the children from their home.

The couple’s sexual orientation was the sole reason the boys were removed from their home. No issues of neglect, abuse, or any sort of mistreatment were ever raised. After the children were removed, the administration approved a new DSS policy that essentially banned gays and lesbians from being foster parents.

From GLAD Website: Don Babets and David Jean (back) with
GLAD attorney and Executive Director Kevin Cathcart (r) and co-counsel Tony Doniger
Photo by Ellen Shub

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders started the legal fight to overturn this blatantly discriminatory policy and return the boys to their home. Today, there would be lawyers lining up around the block to help fight for this family, but in 1986, GLAD found it nearly impossible to find any support in the legal community. Attorney Anthony M. Doniger, a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. – later to become President of the Boston Bar Association –stepped up to the challenge and represented the plaintiffs in the case pro bono all the way up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court rejected the claim of executive privilege asserted by the Dukakis administration in order to withhold documents related to the DSS policy banning gay and lesbians from being foster parents. This ruling allowed the plaintiffs to move forward on their suit to reverse the policy. The policy was ultimately reversed back to the “best interests of the child” standard and the initial suit was settled out of court.

The Beacon Award is celebrating the great work GLAD and the AG’s office have done to promote marriage equality not only in the Commonwealth, but across the nation. Every civil rights effort begins with small steps that, like pebbles dropped in a pond, send out ripples that ultimately can have profound impact.  The Babets v. Johnston case is just one of those “pebbles” dropped just over 25 years ago.

Please join us on November 13 at 6:00 at the Liberty Hotel for the Beacon Award.  The event is free but we do ask that you RSVP.

The Rewards of Pro Bono Cases

Over the past ten years I have represented about a dozen debtors pro bono in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases referred to me through the Volunteer Lawyers Project.  The cases have ranged from the simplest of no asset cases to more complicated matters involving the threat of liens on a debtor’s residence or failed business.  With the help of the Boston Bar Association Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Pro Bono Volunteer Lawyer Training, you could take on these cases too.

A VLP referral is an excellent way for a lawyer just starting out to gain the experience of handling a bankruptcy case from start to finish.  The trustees know from statements filed by the attorney that the representation is pro bono (and I usually state specifically that it is a VLP referral), and they try to be accommodating.   The first three § 341 meetings I did (where a debtor is examined by the Chapter 7 trustee) were all pro bono cases.  It was eye opening to watch the trustees question debtors as they go through the fifty cases they can be assigned in one five hour day (yes, that is an average of six minutes per § 341 meeting).

Once I had a debtor who got sick soon after the bankruptcy filing.  The trustee agreed to conduct the § 341 meeting by telephone, from the debtor’s hospital bed.  I went to the hospital with a notary who could administer the oath to the debtor, and we proceeded.  I am sure the nurses and others around us were puzzled as to what was going on.

Most of all, though, I have found pro bono debtors to be the most grateful and appreciative of clients I have had.  I have often received thank you notes or small gifts, something that doesn’t seem to happen much with my paying clients.  I still remember the thank you note from one of my first clients, which in addition to expressing how pleased he was told me that he had made arrangements for a special novena to be said in church on my behalf.

This program is supported by the Boston Bar Foundation’s Charles P. Normandin Fund, which is dedicated to supporting the public service activities of the Boston Bar Association Bankruptcy Section.

Adam Ruttenberg is a Partner at Looney & Grossman, LLP. Adam is a Co-chair of the Boston Bar Association Bankruptcy Public Service Committee.

Why Bother Publishing an Annual Public Service Report?

It seems like every firm these days is publishing an annual pro bono or public service report to talk about the good work their lawyers are doing. The BBA has never published a report before, but this year, we decided to jump on the bandwagon. We realized that without a comprehensive review of the work done over the past year, it is easy to forget the larger impact we are making on the community. The BBA Public Service Report: Building Stronger Communities has allowed us to document our programs and all the work that is being done by our members and volunteers.

One of the ongoing projects highlighted in the report is the BBA Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court which began in 1999 with volunteers assisting landlords and tenants in summary process cases one day a week. Since then, the program has expanded to include a second day for summary process cases and one day a month to assist pro se litigants in filing complaints. Over the past 13 years, an estimated 12,000 BBA volunteers have helped more than 14,732 individuals.

In addition to facilitating direct pro bono work, the BBA works with the public schools to help underserved students. One such program is the Summer Jobs Program which began 19 years ago. Summer Jobs is a diversity and inclusion pipeline program with the goal of introducing Boston Public School students to the law and the legal profession. Over 385 Boston Public High School students have been place in legal jobs across Boston.

These programs obviously benefit the community, but the benefit to the lawyers cannot be overestimated. Through volunteering for these programs, lawyers are building new legal skills including negotiating settlements and advocating in court. They are also building new relationships with fellow attorneys and community leaders who could help them build a practice or facilitate a career change or advancement.

We would like to thank all of the BBA volunteers who through their dedication and creativity make all of our programs work. In addition, we would like to thank the Boston Bar Foundation and the Boston Foundation for partially funding many of the BBA’s Public Service programs.

AG Assisting Homeowners Facing Foreclosure Statewide

When the foreclosure crisis hit Massachusetts, one of the most frustrating aspects for legal services lawyers and advocates for homelessness prevention was the fact that many homeowners were falling through the cracks. That is because legal services and other homelessness prevention agencies have strict income guidelines and can only assist indigent individuals or families. Due to these restrictions, many families have been unable in the past to get the help they desperately need to try and save their home from foreclosure.

Good news! Thanks to the multi-state settlement that Massachusetts was a party to, the Attorney General has been able to provide help for to any homeowner facing foreclosure regardless of income. The five national banks involved in the $44.5 million settlement are: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and GMAC.  With a portion of this money, the AGO has launched a new statewide program, “HomeCorps”, available to any homeowner facing foreclosure, regardless of income eligibility.

The goal of the AGO’s HomeCorps is to mitigate the impacts of the foreclosure crisis by providing advocacy to distressed borrowers in Massachusetts facing foreclosure. HomeCorps is a comprehensive program which includes loan modification assistance, free direct legal representation to borrowers and post foreclosure assistance to families, as well as a series of grants to foster community restoration and organizations focused on foreclosure crisis response. HomeCorps has already received almost 10,000 calls from distressed homeowners to date. For more information about HomeCorps, or to refer a client who may be facing foreclosure, please click here.

In addition to the services available to all distressed borrowers via the AGO’s HomeCorps, there are also payments available under the National Mortgage Settlement to 21,000 Massachusetts borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 and whose mortgages were serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.  Application or these payments are made directly through the national grant administrator. More information is click here.

Lynn Girton- A Champion of Justice for Those Who Might Otherwise Be Forgotten

Before a crowd of more than 1,200 people at the Boston Bar Association’s Annual Luncheon, Lynn Girton, Chief Counsel of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, will be awarded the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award. Lynn has been devoted her career to helping those unable to afford private counsel in civil cases.

Beyond her direct service work, Lynn has been a fixture at the BBA. Lynn was co-chair of the Delivery of Legal Services Section (DLS), is an active member of the Public Service Oversight Committee, and has been a speaker at countless training sessions. But those contributions pale in comparison to the work Lynn has done as co-chair of the DLS Active Duty Military, Family Members, and Veterans Committee.

Lynn’s commitment to Military Members and Veterans is unmatched. She was initially appointed to the BBA Committee on Legal Services for Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families in 2009. This committee worked to determine how the BBA could help soldiers who are being overwhelmed with legal issues in light of their ongoing military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The DLS Active Duty Military, Family Members, and Veterans Committee was the result of this work.

Lynn has chaired the DLS Active Duty Military, Family Members, and Veterans Committee since its inception in 2010. She has been the driving force behind aligning resources in the community to provide these soldiers and their families with the best legal resources available. But Lynn is more than just the co-chair of this committee. She is the person we call when we have a veteran in need of an attorney and don’t know where to turn. She is the resource we use when we can’t find the answer to a veteran’s questions. She is the glue and the inspiration that has us all coming back month after month to ensure that we are providing the services that these men and women deserve.

Lynn Girton leaves her mark on everything that she does. The soldiers and veterans in Greater Boston are better off today not only because of the work Lynn does, but because of the work she inspires others to do.