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.

An Opportunity to Make a Real Difference

Tax season can be a stressful time of year for anyone, but for many families in the Commonwealth, income tax assistance can mean the difference between subsistence living and dire poverty. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) helps low-to-middle-income taxpayers in Boston complete tax returns and take the steps necessary to receive special credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit and Credit for the Elderly. Volunteers provide free tax preparation in partnership with the Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition (EITC).

Here’s what Avada Douglas a VITA volunteer has to say about the experience:

Douglas, AvadaI have volunteered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program since 2007. Without this program, many of these taxpayers would spend around $150 to get their taxes done by a “professional” who does not have their best interest at hand. And this $150 would go far towards meeting their basic needs for food and shelter.

Because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, people who have worked during the year may be eligible for this refundable credit. This is literally money in their pockets – up to $5,891 (2012 rates). The people I have worked with have been very appreciative of the service that we provide, and often come back year after year to the same site.

I like being able to break down the tax law, and explain to taxpayers why they are getting a refund, and what factors led to it. The more they know about their tax situation, the less intimidating it is.

Join the New Lawyers and Tax Sections for an accelerated training session for the VITA program on January 16th from 4-8 pm. 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.

Law Firms & Offices in the Know Sign Up to Hire Students for Summer 2013

Unemployment for youth remains high, especially among Latinos and African-Americans. Data provided by the Economic Policy Institute tells that one in seven young adults ages 16-24 are unemployed. You have the opportunity to make a difference – at the same time helping to broaden the pipeline of diverse Boston youth exposed to the legal profession.

The BBA, in partnership with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) seeks law firms and law offices to hire students for the summer of 2013. Burns and Levinson LLP, Chu, Ring, and Hazel LLP, Mintz Levin, Pierce Atwood, and WilmerHale have already committed to hiring a Boston Public High School student for 8 weeks of employment this summer, and we invite you to join them.

Over the past 19 years, the BBA has introduced more than 385 young adults to the legal profession. A recent article on the PIC’s school-to-career programs highlights Escarolyn Garcia’s experience participating in the BBA’s Summer Jobs Program.

To hire a student, or for more information on the program, please contact Katie D’Angelo, Public Service Programs Coordinator at [email protected].

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.

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.

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].

A View into the Boston Public Schools

Experiencing a day in the shoes of a Boston public school principal has become a tradition for Boston Bar Association Presidents. Since 2004, the BBA president has participated in the Principal for a Day program run by Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE). The Program allows public and private sector leaders to better understand the improvements and remaining challenges in the Boston public school system.

Furthermore, it provides the basis for the types of relationships between the business community and the local school system that can help improve the schools. President James D. Smeallie participated in BPE’s’ annual Principal for a Day Program on Tuesday, November 13th, shadowing the co-headmasters of the Quincy Upper School.

BBA President J.D. Smeallie talking to 8th and 9th graders at the Quincy Upper School.

“After a morning at the Josiah Quincy School, what struck me was how genuinely enthusiastic the co-headmasters were in the face of poor facilities, budget constraints and a talent drain to the exam schools,” said Smeallie. “If their ideas and strategies are indicative of our public schools as a whole, there is a tremendous amount of effort and creativity directed toward improving our city’s schools.”

Smeallie had the opportunity to review test results with teachers, meet with the principal and administrative staff, participate in a student government meeting, visit classrooms, and debrief with a teacher after a lesson. Following the morning activities,  all 2012 participants ended the day with a lunchtime discussion at Bank of America with a representative from the Mayor’s office, Bank of America Chairman Emeritus and BPE Board of Trustees Chair Chad Gifford, BPE Executive Director Jesse Solomon, Boston School Committee Chair, Reverend Gregory Groover, and Superintendent Carol Johnson.

Co-Headmaster Richard Chang, BBA President J.D. Smeallie, Steven Wright, and Co-Headmaster Stephen Cirasuolo

During time in the schools, Smeallie gained a personal look at the impact of the BBA’s public service programs on the Boston school system. These school-based programs, which include the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, Law Day in the Schools, Mayor’s Youth Council, Summer Jobs Program, and the Boston Debate League, provide students with real world professional skills to increase their involvement in their communities and prepare them for future careers and higher education opportunities. To cite just one benefit, Smeallie explained that all of the students involved in the BBA’s Boston Debate League program from Quincy Upper School continue on to college and receive scholarships.

For more information about public service opportunities in the Boston public schools, please review our 2012 Public Service Report or contact Katie D’Angelo at [email protected]rg.