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