Posts Categorized: Pro Bono
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.
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].
Brian 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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
Adam Ruttenberg is a Partner at Looney & Grossman, LLP. Adam is a Co-chair of the Boston Bar Association Bankruptcy Public Service Committee.
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.
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.
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.
An August 27th article in Lawyers Weekly, “Bar, court still adjusting to probate code overhaul,” (subscription required) highlights the challenges that the probate courts, the trusts and estates bar and the community have faced as the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) has been implemented during the last five months. The article emphasizes the court’s efforts to adapt to the new law while being constrained by a hiring freeze. Despite being understaffed, the court has gone to great lengths to provide information about the new law to the public and the bar, including making a procedural guide, forms, checklists, training materials and practice tips available on its website.
In turn, the trusts and estates bar, led by the Boston Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association, has made significant contributions of time and expertise to help ease the transition to the MUPC. Well before the MUPC took effect, the BBA, MBA and the court collaborated on ways to assist practitioners, pro se litigants and court staff in understanding the new law. In addition to sponsoring numerous CLE programs on the new law, they spearheaded an effort to establish MUPC resource desks staffed by bar association volunteers. These resource desks have been set up in the probate registries in seven counties across the state and are typically in session for two to four hours each week.
The resource desks have allowed trusts and estates practitioners to supplement the court’s efforts by providing input and guidance on MUPC related questions posed by lawyer and non-lawyer visitors to the probate registries. Resource desk volunteers have also helped open a dialogue between the court staff and the bar, discussing issues and questions that have arisen for both groups during the first months that the MUPC has been in effect. To date, 49 volunteer lawyers have assisted 166 people, including at least 44 attorneys, 71 pro se litigants, and 28 court staff.
The MUPC resource desks will be in place at least through the end of October and are in need of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering a few hours of your time to help the court and the bar through what continues to be a challenging time, please contact Peter Shapland ([email protected]) or Cameron Casey ([email protected]) for more information about the program.
Cameron Casey is an Associate at Ropes & Gray LLP. Cameron is a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Trusts and Estates Section Steering Committee and currently serves as co-chair of the Section’s Public Service Committee.
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.
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].