The BBF Lends A Helping Hand

As we move into some of the coldest months here in New England, we have been reflecting on some of the bright spots over the past year.  For example, last summer, ten Boston Public high school students had paying jobs at non-profit legal services organizations, government agencies and in the courts.  One student told us about her experience –“I have been exposed to brilliant people who shared their experiences with me, and helped me form an idea of the career path I might want to take.”

US Bankruptcy Judge Joan Feeney talking with students during the final Module of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program.

With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the US Bankruptcy Court and the Boston Public Schools, we have impressed the importance of prudent financial management upon young minds through the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program.  This program not only helps teens see how they might be able to save for a car, but hopefully can help them avoid bankruptcy later in life.

And in the Housing Court, BBA volunteers assisted more than 1,000 individuals struggling to navigate a complex, overburdened court system.  This program gives hope and relief to pro se landlords and tenants at a time in their lives when one of their basic needs is at stake.

What do these programs have in common?  They are all run with funding provided by the Boston Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the BBA.

The BBF is perhaps most well-known for its role in granting funds to legal services organizations in our community.  These Boston-based programs operate in all areas of need – from giving children access to equal education and life opportunities, providing counseling and advice to homeless and at risk veterans, and helping thousands of families facing foreclosure learn their legal rights and fight displacement.  But what many people don’t know is that the BBF is also providing a helping hand on the community service front, and working with the BBA to improve lives and strengthen neighborhoods.

As the holiday season approaches, the BBF will be launching its Annual Campaign to help support this work.  The tax-deductible donations made to the Annual Campaign help provide a solid base of support as the BBF renews its commitment to increasing access to justice for those who need it most, providing opportunities for young people and engaging lawyers in the kind of projects that improve the lives of those in our community.

Learn more at http://www.bostonbarfoundation.org/Support/annual_appeal.html.

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 Adams Benefit Participation Continues to Build

1)    An Opportunity to Celebrate Public Service

2)    Raising Money for a Worthy Cause

3)    No Boring Speeches

4)    No Being Stuck at a Table with People You Don’t Know

5)    Getting dressed up for an exclusive night out at Boston’s premiere art museum.

Those are just five of the reasons why attendance at the Boston Bar Foundation’s John & Abigail Adams Benefit has nearly doubled since the event was reformatted in 2010.  On the night of January 26, 2013, expect to see some 1,000 lawyers, their best clients, and their friends and neighbors when the event is held once again at the MFA.

 

While some guests take to the dance floor others will schmooze while sipping fine wine, nibbling on assorted delicacies, and admiring the art – which brings up another bonus to the new format – no date required.

Understand that this is an opportunity to connect or reconnect with people you might see nowhere else.

More than just your run of the mill, ho-hum black-tie ball, the annual John & Abigail Adams Benefit has become the Boston legal community’s most popular charitable event.  With the ultimate goal of highlighting public service and raising money for legal services, the event brings together members of the legal and business communities who are committed to advancing the mission of the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) – to promote justice by funding and promoting innovation in legal services, enhancing access to justice for the underserved and supporting the public interest activities of the bar.

Over the years, the benefit has provided the BBF with a significant source of funds for grants to legal services organizations – totaling over $600,000 last year alone.  In 2012, proceeds from the Adams Benefit were combined with other sources to provide grants of $1 million to 24 Massachusetts community organizations that provide legal aid in areas such as immigration, domestic violence and homelessness to our communities most vulnerable citizens.

The BBF advances this worthy cause while putting on an event unlike any other in Boston.  Instead of a traditional ball in a hotel ballroom with sleep inducing lectures, the BBF will support a fellow community non-profit – taking over the entire Museum of Fine Arts and allowing guests to freely wander the galleries, mingle and network on their own schedule.
There is one feature presentation at the event, and that is the Public Service Award to an honoree exemplifying a commitment to proven leadership and a commitment to public service initiatives. This year, the award will be presented to Carol Fulp, President & CEO of The Partnership, a nonprofit devoted to helping New England employers retain and develop professionals of color.

“Carol Fulp is the embodiment of what we look for in a Public Service Award recipient,” said Tom Gallitano of Conn Kavanaugh, Co-Chair of the John & Abigail Adams Benefit Committee. “From the strides she has made in the areas of diversity and advancement in the professional sphere, to the creation of the largest corporate summer jobs program in the country at John Hancock Financial, Carol represents the BBF’s core values of professionalism, service, compassion, and responsibility.  We are excited to be able to recognize her record of accomplishments and her determination and spirit of service.”

With many legal services organizations facing declines in funding and enduring the effects of the recession, we as lawyers must all do our part to ensure their work is able to continue.  Spending Saturday, January 26 at the MFA is one way that you can help provide a brighter future for individuals in need and better access to justice.

Find out more at http://www.bostonbar.org/events/john-abigail-adams-benefit.

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.

Finding the Right Pro Bono Opportunity Can Be A Challenge

Finding the right pro bono opportunity can be a challenge.  Without feeling committed to the cause, it’s hard to get engaged and remain committed over time.  Throughout the years I have coordinated a pro bono program at my firm, I have seen many attorneys who have the desire to get involved in pro bono work, but don’t know how to make the time, haven’t found a cause that resonates with them, or have been turned off after being thrown on a case they weren’t interested in.  Attorneys have extensive demands on their time, and without accessible, manageable opportunities that attorneys can feel passionate about, many who are open to the idea of pro bono work simply won’t take it on.

Finding a cause that resonates with each individual attorney is crucial.  Once someone feels committed to the cause, they become more engaged, and often they remain committed over a longer period of time, becoming willing to take on not just one case, but another, and yet another.  In addition to identifying the right cause, attorneys have to feel supported – by their employers and the community – so that they can successfully balance their pro bono work with the other demands on their time.  Whether working at a firm, the government, or another large institution, learning how to find the necessary support can be a challenge in and of itself.

Increasing the number of attorneys who engage in pro bono work, and increasing their engagement over time, allows for the benefits provided to individuals and non-profit organizations by pro bono legal services to grow exponentially.  Taking steps to achieve this goal is important to the members of the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program, so we have arranged for a panel discussion entitled “How to Navigate Pro Bono Work at Law Firms” on October 9th at 4:00 p.m.  The panel will be followed by a reception at 5:30 p.m. hosted by the New Lawyers Pro Bono Committee, with representatives from various sections who can speak with attorneys about specific pro bono opportunities.  In addition, on October 22nd from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. the BBA will be co-sponsoring the Pro Bono Fair for Attorneys and Law Students at Suffolk University Law School.  Representatives from a very wide range of non-profit organizations will be in attendance to educate attorneys about the types of pro bono opportunities that are available in our community.

With four very experienced panelists and an expert moderator, next week’s panel will provide attorneys with the tools they need to incorporate pro bono work into their practice.  Whether at a law firm or not – the skills and tactics that will be discussed will apply to attorneys across a range of practices, including both litigation and transactional work.  Join us to learn how to make pro bono work a lasting part of your practice.

Emily Hodge is an Associate at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP. Emily is a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Public Interest Leadership Program.

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.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

1.    The Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) is the largest public service program of the Boston Bar Association.  Over the years it has grown and now the LRS staff screens over 100,000 calls per year connecting members of the community to lawyers and legal resources for advice, representation and information on legal issues.

2.    The BBA LRS is the only ABA-accredited Lawyer Referral Service in Greater Boston.  In order to become approved by the American Bar Association, the BBA LRS complies with standards established by the ABA, including the creation of objective experience requirements for the attorneys on each practice area panel. Furthermore, LRS staff conducts daily quality assurance calls with callers about the referrals made, and each month all of the attorneys on the panel are individually verified that they are in good standing with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.

3.    The BBA LRS receives requests from over 600 organizations, including courts, libraries, and hospitals to receive marketing materials.  A few times per year, the LRS sends brochures in English and Spanish that highlight our referral process, as well as bilingual tear sheets that have our contact information.  These organizations share our information with their patrons that they cannot assist.  The LRS receives many calls from people who found our contact information at a library, or other non-profit organization.

4.    Our attorneys can do well by doing good. Consider the following…An 85 year old woman called the BBA LRS when injured trying to enter a business establishment with her walker. A patron held the door open for the client, but the large door struck her as it was closing, resulting in substantial injuries and other health complications. The BBA LRS referred the caller to Petrucelly, Nadler & Norris P.C. Due to the client’s age and disabilities, partners Jeffrey Petrucelly and Jennifer Norris along with associate Daniel McCabe visited the client extensively at her home, completing depositions and arranging meetings. The firm found that the door did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements or Massachusetts disability guidelines. Ultimately, the firm obtained a $200,000 settlement on behalf of the client.  In addition, another important and meaningful result was achieved when the company’s representative and attorney met with the client’s family to apologize and express their sympathy about the unfortunate accident.

5.    The BBA LRS Conducts extensive outreach.  Throughout the year, the LRS staff attends approximately one community and outreach event per month, connecting with many neighborhoods and populations in the Greater Boston area.  LRS staff speak to hundreds of people who wanted to learn more about the service and how they can get in touch with an attorney.  For example, last Sunday the BBA LRS joined in the festivities at the 20th annual Cambridge Carnival.

Solana Goss, LRS Intake Coordinator and Alison Kuba, LRS Intern at the 20th Annual Cambridge Carnival.

Mass Lawyers Weekly Article on MUPC Highlights Need for Continued Help from Trusts and Estates Bar

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.