Blizzards and slow public transportation didn’t stop our volunteers from getting out in the community and giving back during 2015. Take a look below for highlights from the BBA’s 2015 public service efforts:
Posts Categorized: Pro Bono
Last week the BBA hosted two popular pro bono trainings to recruit volunteers to address unmet legal needs in our community. The trainings included the annual Landlord Tenant Law & Practice Pro Bono Training for the Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court Program and the second training in the series pro bono trainings for the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.
So far this year, the BBA has held six pro bono trainings and trained over 200 attorneys to take pro bono cases through local legal service organizations. We are so grateful to our members who attended the trainings and who volunteer in the community.
If you’re interested in getting involved, don’t miss the pro bono trainings coming up this winter:
Volunteer Lawyer Training: Representing a Pro Bono Debtor in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Thursday, January 21, 2016 4:00 PM to 7:30 PM
CORI Matters— Learn How to Help Low Income Clients Seal Criminal Records
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM
Representing Low-Income Taxpayers When the IRS and/or DOR Audits Their Return: Part Three
Thursday, March 3, 2016 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
On Monday, over two hundred law students and new lawyers gathered at Suffolk Law School to learn about volunteer opportunities at the annual Pro Bono Fair. Each year the BBA and Suffolk Law School team up to connect law students and new attorneys interested in giving back with local legal services organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies seeking assistance. If you missed the event but still want to get involved, click here to view the guide to learn how you can help.
Take a look below for more photos from the event:
The BBA & BBF are excited to announce the release of the 2015 Public Service Report. The report highlights the work of our 12,000+ members giving back and helping our community through programs like Law Day in the Schools and the Reentry Education Program. Take a few minutes to read through the report and learn more.
If you’re feeling inspired to get involved, please contact Katie D’Angelo, Public Service Programs Coordinator, at [email protected].
Massachusetts is one of only a few states in the country where inmates can be sentenced for up to ten years in solitary confinement for one disciplinary infraction. Leslie Walker, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, is one of many activists looking to educate the community about the risks of this practice.
On October 26th, she will host a Brown Bag Lunch from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. where attendees will have the chance to watch a presentation, hear a former prisoner’s story and ask questions of Leslie and her staff. The primary goal of the Brown Bag is education about solitary confinement regulations in the Commonwealth, and about proposals to reform those regulations.
“Now is the time, because much of the rest of the country is realizing that long-term solitary confinement does much more harm than good and has a negative impact on public safety,” she said. “President Obama has spoken out against solitary confinement, and Associate Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court has said it drives men mad.”
Leslie and her organization are in favor of a plan that would keep inmates in solitary confinement only as long as they are considered dangerous. In other states, studies have found that prisons become less violent when prisoners in solitary are allowed to gradually reenter the general population.
Leslie said she would encourage anyone with an interest in prisoners’ rights, especially law school students, to attend the Brown Bag event later this month.
“I would have people leave the Brown Bag educated as to the state of solitary confinement in Massachusetts and aware of the solutions that are out there,” she said.
Click here to register for the event.
In honor of Pro Bono Month, the BBA partnered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) and Senior Partners for Justice to hold a Lawyer for the Day: Fair Debt Collection training last week. Attendees learned about defending debt collection lawsuits, answering and filing discovery requests, asserting counterclaims under the FDCPA, and other consumer protection statutes. Now that the Lawyer for the Day Program is expanding outside of the Boston Municipal Court, volunteers are in high demand. Here’s why Emily Jarrell, a Staff Attorney at VLP, thinks you should volunteer for the program:
“The Lawyer for the Day Program allows volunteers to learn a new area of the law by seeing how the court works and watching more experienced volunteers take on cases. It also allows volunteers to do pro bono work without needing to commit to a full representation case. Volunteers can commit to just a couple hours a week using limited assistance representation. The debt collection projects are also a great way to meet other lawyers and get experience litigating in District Court.”
If you’re interested in this project, VLP staff members will be talking about all of the pro bono opportunities available through their organization at the Pro Bono Fair on Monday, October 19th from 4:30-6 pm. Click here to learn more.
Have you been searching for the perfect pro bono opportunity? Head on over to Suffolk Law School this Monday between 4:30-6 pm for the BBA and Suffolk’s annual Pro Bono Fair. Representatives from local legal services organizations will be onsite to discuss opportunities to volunteer with their organizations. The event draws over 300 law students and attorneys each year. Don’t miss out on the chance to celebrate Pro Bono Month by finding your next volunteer opportunity!
Click here to learn more.
At the end of September, the BBA hosted a very special guest from Washington, DC. Martina Vandenberg, the President and Founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center traveled to the BBA to lead a training on using federal law to obtain justice for trafficking survivors. She was joined by local expert, Julie Dahlstrom, a Senior Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna and Clinical Legal Fellow at the Boston University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic.
In the United States, trafficking survivors rarely have access to justice. In 2013, federal prosecutors brought just 161 criminal cases against traffickers in the entire country. Pro bono attorneys can play a huge role in advocating for the rights of survivors. We reached out to Attorney Vandenberg to learn more about the training. Take a look below to learn more:
What do you hope attendees learned from the program?
I hope that the attorneys who participated learned: 1) that pro bono lawyers can make a significant difference in the lives of trafficking survivors; 2) that trafficking survivors have the right to sue their traffickers for damages in federal court; and 3) that pro bono attorneys can get involved by volunteering with a local non-governmental organization or with HT Pro Bono [The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center]. Pro bono attorneys have a fantastic track record in this field. HT Pro Bono has one key goal: ensuring that every trafficking victim who wants a lawyer gets a pro bono lawyer.
Why should attorneys get involved in pro bono human trafficking work?
This is some of the most rewarding pro bono work that an attorney can do. The cases are compelling. The clients are inspiring. Civil litigation against human traffickers draws on skills that attorneys in private practice have already mastered. Trafficking work also provides an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of a new legal field. In October 2015, pro bono attorneys at WilmerHale filed the first-ever federal human trafficking civil suit ever brought in Massachusetts. Pro bono attorneys can also fight to vacate convictions resulting from crimes that traffickers forced the victims to commit. This is pro bono work that provides intellectual challenge, direct client interaction, and concrete results in trafficking survivors’ lives. It is also an area where extensive technical assistance is available — from HT Pro Bono, from local NGO attorneys, and from experts throughout the United States.
If you’re feeling inspired to get involved in pro bono opportunities of any kind after reading this article, don’t miss the Pro Bono Fair at Suffolk University this Monday, October 19th from 4:30-6:00 pm. Representatives from local legal service organizations will be onsite to tell you about opportunities to volunteer with their organizations. Click here to learn more.
Last week, the BBA kicked off the first of three pro bono trainings to help build the inaugural low-income taxpayer pro bono panel of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Greater Boston Legal Services. As you may remember from this article, the Boston Bar Foundation also supports the Low-Income Tax Clinic (LITC). Beyond the Billable reached out to Keith Fogg, the Director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, to learn more about the training. Here’s what he had to say:
Why should attorneys join the low-income tax pro bono panel?
It’s an easy way for them to receive pro bono case referrals. They can refer individuals seeking pro bono assistance to one of the clinics to vet, and then get the cases that meet the pro bono criteria. Aside from using the panel as a screening mechanism for handling pro bono cases, attorneys receive support on their cases from the clinicians if questions arise about facts or law in the cases they receive.
Also, working cases from the pro bono panel provides the opportunity to handle tax controversy cases the attorney might not handle in their ordinary practice, and so they can learn from the experience and gain valuable skills that might assist them in their practice.
But even without the other professional benefits mentioned, helping others who need it is very rewarding. Pro bono panels provide an opportunity to help others while using and honing the skills that tax attorneys have learned through training and practice. Rather than engaging in pro bono assistance in an area of the law in which they do not ordinarily practice, being a part of the pro bono tax panel will put their skills to use.”
What should attorneys expect in the next tax program?
Most of the clients seeking help do so because they cannot pay the liability already assessed against them. This makes the collection panel the most relevant to pro bono practice. Some of the clients with collection problems really need assistance reopening the question of whether they owe. Others have no basis for challenging the assessment but very low prospects for paying the debt. These clients need assistance pulling together their financial information in order to make a successful presentation to the IRS to obtain debt relief through an offer in compromise, debt forbearance through currently not collectible designation or debt postponement through an installment agreement. The program will explain how to work with the client and the IRS to achieve a beneficial resolution.”
Click here to learn more about the upcoming collection panel.
If you’re interested in joining the pro bono panel, please contact Katie D’Angelo at [email protected].
The day was hectic. More than 200 people from 29 different countries arrived, some of them coming from adverse circumstances, some of them confused by the process they had to go through to apply to become a U.S. citizen.
On September 26, those gathered at the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury represented just a small part of a population with a huge unmet need – immigrants who need assistance filling out their applications for citizenship. That’s why the BBA partnered with Project Citizenship to hold a training prior to Citizenship Day in Boston, where volunteers learned how they could help.
But for Wadner Oge, Staff Attorney with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, the focus of the day quickly shifted from processing applications to facilitating conversations. Wadner, who was born in Haiti and became a citizen in 2000, volunteered to act as a translator shortly after arriving. Of the 242 applicants for citizenship that day, 76 of them were from Haiti – the highest number from any single country. Wadner immediately recognized a need for volunteers who spoke their native language.
“As a interpreter, I had to be able to interact with the group of the people that the service (Citizenship Day) was designed for,” he said. “There was a misconception among some of them about how the process works, so I explained it to many of them in Haitian Creole. It was a very busy day and a lot of people came. I was very happy to be in a position to help.”
Wadner said he was motivated to get involved due to the high price of an attorney to assist with a citizenship application under normal circumstances. He estimated the average attorney might charge as much as $1,000, money that many immigrants can’t spare.
To Analisa Smith-Perez, a BBA member who works at the Brooke courthouse, the most moving part of her volunteer experience at Citizenship Day was watching 175 people sworn in as citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the school.
“What I really loved about the whole day was that here, you’re helping people, and then you get to see what happens at the end of the whole process if everything goes according to plan,” she said.
Analisa volunteers actively with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and considers herself familiar with the many obstacles those who hope to become citizens face. Events like Citizenship Day can help prevent immigrants from turning to someone for legal help who may not have a law degree and may take advantage of them, Analisa said.
“There are so many instances of fraud, especially in the immigrant community, that we need to fight against,” she said. “Sometimes these people charge an exorbitant amount of money, they don’t necessarily do a good job, and once you make a mistake on your paperwork, you get rejected. They don’t always necessarily tell you why you got rejected. It isn’t cheap, and it’s very disheartening. It can make a person just want to stop trying.”
Analisa said she would encourage anyone to get involved and volunteer with Citizenship Day and other pro bono opportunities.
“It’s important to do this type of work because it emphasizes and reaffirms why I became an attorney in the first place. I became an attorney to help people,” she said. “When you do a project like this, it reminds you so much of the human element that is always present in what we do.”