Posts Categorized: Public Interest Leadership Program

It Takes More Than Just Lawyers

Each week we talk about the valuable work our volunteer and pro bono lawyers are doing in the community. They advocate for clients of limited means, mentor students, teach life skills and assist unrepresented litigants. Our programs are successful because of the time and energy that our volunteers dedicate each year. However, it takes more than lawyers to create successful programs.

The BBA’s Public Service department oversees the Lawyer Referral Service and all other BBA public service programs — including the Public Interest Leadership Program. We also initiate and nurture relationships with non-profit organizations that facilitate pro bono engagement by lawyers or provide for the direct delivery of civil legal services to the indigent. In addition, the BBA’s Public Service Staff participates in and supports the work of the BBF Grants Committee, and administers BBF special funds grants that support specific BBA projects.

Over the past year, the BBA’s staff’s hard work and dedication has given us much to be proud of. Through the BBA’s unique relationship with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) we have been able to grow the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program (Financial Literacy). This past summer Financial Literacy expanded to include students working at Sovereign and Citizens Banks. In addition, this spring, with the help of PIC, Financial Literacy will add an additional five Boston Public High Schools whose students are participating.

Staff worked tirelessly to cultivate the very productive partnership with the Boston Debate League (BDL). This partnership has led to meaningful, new volunteer opportunities for BBA members. For BDL, the partnership with the BBA has helped them recruit talented judges and mentors for their urban high school debate teams. The partnership has truly benefited both organizations.

The department is staffed by four people: a Manager, a Public Service Programs Coordinator, a LRS Intake Coordinator and a LRS intern.

shah, sonia croppedSonia Shah, the Public Service Manager is a D'Angelo, Katieformer legal services attorney with deep connections to the legal services and Greater Boston non-profit community.

Katie D’Angelo, the Public Service Programs Coordinator, recently joined the BBA and provides daily support for all of our programs.

Making a Difference One Interview at a Time

Last year I volunteered as a coach and interviewer for the Job Interview Skills Program that the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and the Federal Bar Association conduct for CARE/RESTART, reentry programs of the Federal District Court of Massachusetts. One of my most vivid memories was working with one of the probationers on his interviewing skills. We worked on one particular question over and over, as I knew that if he gave a potential employer the answer he was giving me, he would never get a job. By the end of our session I thought we had made real progress, but wasn’t sure what would happen when he was in a real interview.

A few weeks later, as I impatiently waited in a long line at a local coffee shop for my required morning cup of coffee, I heard someone behind me repeatedly say “I didn’t give the same response and I got the job!  I didn’t give the same response and I got the job!”  My first instinct was not to react – just a random person with a new job, right? Wrong. Seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder and to my surprise, I recognized the newly hired and very excited youth, he was the probationer I coached in my mock interview sessions, and he was talking to me. Needless to say, I was surprised to see him.  When I congratulated him on his new job he replied: “You were extremely tough but I stopped given those bad answers you helped me through!”  He went on to explain how much his life had changed and how he finally found a job after being told no over and over again.  What really stuck with me was how convinced he was that he would not have gotten the job but for our mock interview and coaching sessions.

I never realized how much impact my mock interview questions and coaching would have on him.  However, the excitement on his face and in his voice as he told me about his new job was priceless.  Knowing that I, as an individual, could make a real impact in one person’s life is why I didn’t think twice about signing up to work with CARE/RESTART again.  As a member of this year’s Public Interest Leaders (PILP) class, I’m excited to be assisting CARE/RESTART by developing a series of educational workshops addressing civil legal barriers that might otherwise hinder these probationers reentry to society. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work on this pilot project with my fellow PILPers. I may not be lucky enough to have another positive encounter with a participant like the one in the coffee shop, but I will be satisfied knowing that I am doing something to help the CARE/RESTART participants make a positive re-entry into society.

Raquel Webster is Senior Counsel at National Grid USA. Raquel is a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Public Interest Leadership Program.

A Conversation with Justice Ralph Gants

Justice Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court sits for a conversation with the 2012 PILP class.

Guest Blogger: Staci Rubin, PILP Class 2012-2013

The Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) class of 2012-2013 is underway.  As one of fourteen PILPers, I have already deepened my understanding of how the Boston Bar Association (BBA) functions and heard directly from public interest leaders about what qualities strong leaders possess.

The explicit goal of the restructured program is for PILP participants to meet leaders in the public service landscape, contribute significantly to the pro bono / public interest work in Boston, and create a pathway to leadership within the BBA.  Since our PILP class kicked off on May 10, we have met with leaders from the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Greater Boston Legal Services, Delivery of Legal Services Section, and Bankruptcy Pro Bono Committee.

On Tuesday, June 26 Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court graciously met with the PILP class to discuss his work with the Massachusetts Access to Justice CommissionPurely as a hypothetical, Justice Gants asked us to imagine something he later explained was too outlandish for real world consideration: a world with a concierge judiciary akin to concierge medicine. Concierge litigants would pay a higher court filing fee in exchange for a judge that could devote more time to the case and likely render a decision on the matter in a shorter time frame as compared with the current court system.  Those higher filing fees, according to the hypothetical, would be funneled directly to the presently underfunded judiciary.  While the PILPers were not in universal agreement as to whether the detriments outweighed the merits of this hypothetical concierge judiciary, there was universal agreement about the need for additional financial resources to protect the integrity of the justice system.

At present, there are vast numbers of low income individuals and groups in need of legal advice and representation who cannot gain access to counsel.  During this time of increasing requests for legal services and representation and decreasing budgets for legal service organizations, public defenders, and prosecutors, there are vast opportunities for attorneys to offer pro bono assistance.  Justice Gants suggested that the types of conflicts where there is the greatest need for pro bono assistance include litigants in child custody, support, and alimony cases, eviction and related housing proceedings, bankruptcy filings, immigration proceedings and domestic violence survivors seeking restraining orders.  While Justice Gants admits that actual and perceived conflicts of interest will continue to hinder attorney pro bono representation for many employed attorneys, he noted that rigorous case screening, access to fillable and multilingual court forms, limited assistance representation, and guidance documents dictating law may help to overcome some of the conflict barriers.

The PILPers have seemingly started a tradition by asking every visitor to PILP gatherings to provide their input on unmet legal needs.  Our list of ideas about where public interest work could most benefit the needs of the Commonwealth’s low income and otherwise underserved residents is growing.  We will continue collecting ideas from public interest leaders and begin developing one or more public interest projects in late summer.  I am grateful for the PILP opportunity, motivated by the like-minded public interest spirit of my colleagues, and look forward to collectively improving access to justice and narrowing the gap of unmet legal needs in Boston.