The Summer Jobs Program is not simply an employment opportunity for students, but an enrichment experience – with a strong focus on education. Students in the program attend weekly seminars on rights and responsibilities in the workplace, civic responsibility, and the judicial system.
Beyond the Billable reached out to Anthony Betances, a 2011 participant to find out what he thought about the enrichment program.
Anthony Betances, 2011 Summer Jobs Participant
My favorite seminar took place at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The reason it was my favorite was because it put into practice many of the things that we had already heard about in the past seminars. We already knew that irresponsible spending could carry serious consequences, and we had been given some information on bankruptcy, but the unfolding of the process in front of our very own eyes had more of an impact. All of a sudden, someone spending $40,000 or so but getting hit with more than $80,000 in fees and interest became more real, as did the possibility of buying a car and getting into more debt than that new car is even worth. It really just showed how ridiculous and reckless things can get if you’re not proactive about, and conscious of, your financial life.
The Summer Jobs Program is a longstanding collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, the City of Boston, and the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). The students are high school rising juniors, seniors and college freshmen, with some work and volunteer experience. All participants completed an application, provided at least two letters of recommendation, and submitted an essay explaining why they want to participate in this program. The students are high-achievers with their eyes set on college. For many of the students, this program will be their first exposure to law as a profession.
Lisa Goodheart, President of the BBA with Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the 2012 Mayor’s Youth Council Reception at Northeastern University.
Beyond the Billable recently attended a reception at Mayor Menino’s 2012 reception for the Mayor’s Youth Council (MYC). Over the years the BBA has provided mentors for this initiative, and we chatted with two of them to find out how they feel about donating their time to the MYC. Here’s what we learned.
The BBA first became involved in what would become the Mayor’s Youth Council in 1990 through its predecessor, the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Corps. The Corps represented a public-private partnership among the City of Boston, the BBA and Northeastern University. The aim of the program was multifold – to show Boston youth how the city and its’ many institutions worked, to develop leadership, encourage community service and promote personal growth in today’s young people. The foundations of the MYC reside firmly in roots of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Corps.
Since 1994, the BBA has been proud to provide the MYC with lawyer-mentors. In addition to attending bi-monthly meetings at Boston City Hall, the mentors guide students through their program goals and help develop their skills in a variety of different capacities – including executing and leading meetings. Here at Beyond the Billable, we wanted to find out from our mentors what it means to give their time to the MYC.
Edmund J. Gorman, Law Office of Edmund J. Gorman
Tonight, I begin my 8th year as a BBA mentor for the MYC. I participate because I support the BBA’s focus on helping Boston’s kids. Also, I like to think that my service honors the men and women who mentored me at a time when a professional career was anything but a certainty.
Our role as BBA mentors has numerous facets. Each year, the MYC representatives identify an issue or two that are important to their lives as teenagers. e.g., school nutrition, public safety and violence prevention, civility on the “T,” substance abuse, summer jobs, and after-school programs. With the help of the Mayor’s staff, the kids then design a program to learn more about the issues and to share what they’ve learned by “outreach” to their peers at schools, neighborhood libraries, and recreation centers. The mentors assist the MYC’s planning by steering the discussions to focus on the specific issue and goal. Sometimes, we ask questions to generate more thinking and discussion while at other times we try to answer questions, especially when the roles of law and government are pertinent.
Occasionally, we share an anecdote to illustrate a point. For example, a few kids scoffed at the notion of teens taking a minimum wage or no-pay summer job. I explained that I began working at 16 years old for $1.60 per hour. That employer is now a major client and I believe I was selected as its counsel in part because I had swept the floors. I also related how I volunteered many after-school hours working on a recycling program for my hometown, which in turn was the seed for a lifelong interest and career in environmental law. They now understand that our journeys begin with small steps.
I participate in Mayor’s Youth Council as a means to engage publicly with Boston-area high school students (a portion of the city’s population with which I would otherwise have little interaction) and to be a resource to those students as they embark upon their college years and begin to think about what they want to do with their lives.
The Mayor’s Youth Council has a lot in common with the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program. It is a year-long program made up of members selected after a competitive application process. The key goals of Mayor’s Youth Council are to foster leadership among its members and to serve as a vehicle for outreach to the larger community of high school students in Boston. In addition to attending regular meetings, MYC members are involved in planning and carrying out a limited number of projects through the year (for example, this year, the Council conducted a resume workshop).
Being a mentor is a rewarding and low-stress activity that involves attending the bi-monthly Council meetings at City Hall and facilitating debate and discussion among Council members regarding issues affecting youth in the City of Boston. Outside of regularly-scheduled meetings, mentors are often involved in facilitating the Council’s special projects. This year, I attended the resume-writing workshop with another BBA volunteer and provided tips and feedback to high school students preparing resumes for summer jobs and college admissions.
The MYC consists of 36 students selected to represent their neighborhoods as volunteers on this citywide board. Many of these young leaders are selected to participate in the BBA Summer Jobs Program. Each class of the Council establishes an annual program agenda and works to meet these goals throughout the year. The 2011-2012 MYC class focused on issues of education, health, youth development, neighborhood safety, environment and communications. They held meetings with community leaders including the Executive Director of the Boston Youth Fund to discuss Boston’s teen job strategy and a representative from the Boston Police Department to address concerns regarding healthy and positive youth and police partnerships.
Imagine that you are a high school student again. You have nearly completed your sophomore, junior or senior year. You are a student in one of the 28 high schools in Boston. You might be a freshly minted graduate, ready to enter college in the fall. You come from one of the 21 diverse Boston neighborhoods. In addition to English, you may speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, Chinese or one of the 77 home languages spoken by Boston Public Schools students. You decide to apply and are accepted to the Boston Bar Association’sSummer Jobs Program.
As we enter the 19th year of the Program, Beyond the Billable wanted to reach out to some of Program alumni – to find out where they are now, how they got there and what their experiences as Summer Jobs interns meant for them. These are their stories.
Khimmara Greer, Esq.
Summer Jobs Program – 1999
I grew up in Dorchester. I attended John D. O’Bryant High School in Roxbury and Regis College in Weston. After graduating from college, I worked at WGBH for three years. Becoming an attorney was always a dream of mine, so I decided to pursue my dreams and entered North Carolina Central University School of Law, located in Durham, NC, in the fall of 2008. I graduated law school in May 2011 and passed the NC bar in July 2011. Since graduating from law school, I have been working as a temporary document review contract attorney on various litigation projects, and continue to seek permanent employment.
Bingham McCutchen, LLP, formerly Bingham Dana, LLP, was the law firm I interned at in the summer of 1999. The most important thing I learned throughout my internship was how to conduct myself in a professional environment. This was my first exposure to the corporate world, as it is for many of the students who participate in the Program, and it laid a solid foundation that I have built on over the past few years. While in college, I was an Inroads intern for three summers (interned at Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA and Fidelity Investments for two summers) and I felt like I was a few steps ahead of some of my colleagues because of my experience as a BBA Summer Intern.
My favorite memory from the Program was being selected as the female student to give a speech at the end of summer graduation. I felt very honored and was very nervous at the same time, but it was a great learning experience for me and gave me the opportunity to work on my public speaking skills. I still have the picture I took with Mayor Menino and the male student speaker. It is a good reminder of how far I have come.
There are many benefits to having a teen in the office. However, in my opinion, the most important benefit is an opportunity for attorneys and their staff to give back to the community by mentoring teens in the community through the BBA Summer Program both directly and indirectly. Giving back to the community is extremely important because positively influencing the lives of teens assist in creating well-rounded adults, and the next generation of professionals.
My experience as a BBA Summer Intern helped me to become an even more diligent student. I admired the attorneys throughout my summer internship and was inspired by their accomplishments, which made me work even harder. One of my goals was to be in their shoes one day, to become a successful attorney, and I continue to persistently work towards that goal.
Chioma with her father at the Boston College Law School graduation
Boston College Law School Class of 2012
Summer Jobs Program – 2000
My name is Chioma Akukwe. I recently graduated from Boston College Law School this May, and hope to practice as a litigator here in MA. As a Brighton High School student, I avoided destructive behavior common among inner city youth because of the outreach programs led by lawyers and judges of the Commonwealth. It all started with the BBA Summer Jobs Program.
During my sophomore year in high school, I participated in the Boston Bar Association (BBA) Summer Jobs Program, where I was introduced to the legal profession and the idea of law school as an attainable and attractive goal. While at the BBA Summer Jobs Program, I interned at Rackemann, Sawyer and Brewster.
Thanks to outreach programs like the BBA Summer Jobs Program, I experienced extensive legal-career-related tasks by the young age of 16. I also acquired career role models such as Chief Judge Wolf, who has served as my mentor throughout college and law school. My experience with outreach programs in high school played a critical role in my ultimate decision to go to law school.
I attribute my success at the College of the Holy Cross and Boston College Law School to the public interest lawyers who were determined to make a difference by introducing disadvantaged Boston youth to the inner workings of the justice system.
After my 1L year, I interned at Microloan Foundation (MLF), an organization that helps disenfranchised African women provide basic necessities for their families by giving them small loans to start businesses. I participated in the Boston College Law School’s London Semester Externship Program during the second semester of my 2L year. The externship part of my semester in London took place at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, a large firm in London. When I returned from London, I spent my 2L summer working for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP).
Since my summer with the BBA Program, I have grown to be confident, hard-working, professional and dependable. Having a BBA Summer Program Student at a law firm is not only beneficial to the student, it can also be a rewarding experience for a mentoring attorney. It is a chance to play a positive role in a teenager’s life, and possibly help shape them into a responsible adult. I am a living proof.
Emmanuelle speaking at the 2010 BBA Law Day Dinner about her experience in the Summer Jobs Program
The most valuable things I learned during my Summer Jobs opportunity with the Boston Bar Association was the importance of good work ethic and the benefits of networking. I was a high school student who had never worked in an office until I started at Ferriter Scobbo & Rodophele. I was challenged to perform important tasks in a fast paced environment and quickly learned how crucial it was to ask questions when I did not understand something. The attorneys and staff were very gracious and appreciative when I asked questions as it demonstrated my enthusiasm as well as good judgment in wanting to complete the task well. I also learned the importance of networking. The working relationships I established through the Boston Bar Summer Jobs resulted in many great mentors and friends. My favorite memories from program were the visiting the various courthouses and attending my first Red Sox game!
While Summer Jobs students usually have minimal office experience, they are chosen form a select pool of applicants. Law firms certainly benefit from their zeal and energy. In my opinion and based on my work with other BBA Summer Jobs students, I was able to see the great benefits in having these students exposed to a law office. In addition to the proactive and inquisitive nature of these students, they are also able to seamlessly grasp the technology given the fact that they are “digital natives.” Their creative input could prove to enhance working systems and productivity.
The BBA Summer Jobs program definitely affirmed my decision to pursue of a legal career. As an intern, I had first-hand exposure to corporate law firm culture and the working environment. The experience aided me in obtaining other internships while attending the George Washington University. While GWU, presented many internship opportunities to students, I believe my Boston Bar Summer Jobs experience gave me a competitive edge in the applicant pool.
On Memorial Day, people throughout the Commonwealth and the country paused to remember and honor the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Here at Beyond the Billable, we felt compelled to look back at the initiatives created to assist the service men and women of Massachusetts by the lawyer-volunteers in our community.
Seeking pro bono legal services for the families of troops from Massachusetts being deployed in increasing numbers for lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army National Guard approached the Boston Bar Association (BBA) in 2009. Under the leadership of then BBA President, Jack Regan, the BBA developed an ad hoc committee to analyze the need for these services and to determine how the BBA might help. The committee was chaired by Bill Sinnott, Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston and a retired Marine colonel, and included people with extensive military, pro bono, and/or legal services experience. After many months of reaching out to community organizations and conducting research, the committee recommended the creation of the Veterans’ Initiative and the Delivery of Legal Services Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee.
Since then, the BBA has supported the following programs – all of which seek to address the unique legal needs of military personnel, veterans and their families.
The Yellow Ribbon Project
Lawyer volunteers from a variety of practice areas serve as educators at Yellow Ribbon events — pre and post deployment informational sessions open to members of all five branches of the military. At the Yellow Ribbon events, BBA volunteers provide legal advice to military personnel, veterans and their families throughout the state in areas of law that include: bankruptcy, consumer debt & credit, family, financial education, labor and employment and trusts and estates. Lawyer volunteers have also developed teaching materials and power points presented and distributed at these events.
Financial Education Veterans Initiative
Veterans and families of veterans are experiencing financial hardship brought about by deployment and the reduction in income that deployment may result. In addition, many veterans are experiencing financial hardship for reasons relating to the current downturn in the economy. The Yellow Ribbon Project has expanded to include a financial education outreach program. Through the Bankruptcy Section of the BBA, lawyer volunteers provide speakers to veterans’ organizations in Massachusetts on the topic of personal finance, including managing credit and mortgage modification programs. These programs are designed to increase the financial knowledge of servicemen and women and their families. Members of the Section are also working with the Bankruptcy Court to reach a broader audience.
The BBA Lawyer Referral Service is committed to serving military members, veterans, and their families. Since February 2010, BBA lawyers have assisted more than 4,500 troops and their families from MA National Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Reserve. The Boston Bar Lawyer Referral Service has attorneys who certify that they meet certain experience requirements and have completed specialized training to help military members, veterans, and their families with legal issues in a variety of practice areas, including Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, Family Law, and Trusts & Estates.
To reach the BBA Lawyer Referral Service please call (617)742 0625 or (800)552-7046 Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm; Friday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. You can also email us at LRS@bostonbar.org or visit us on the web at www.bostonbarlawyer.org.
If you are interested in learning more about these projects, please contact Stephanie Lee, Public Service Programs Coordinator at email@example.com.
In the beginning it was an informal initiative designed to provide unpaid internships, introducing law students to the inner workings of the courts. The brainchild of Boston Municipal Court Judge Robert Tochka, the program helped provided needed assistance to the trial courts during a time marked by funding cuts and staff layoffs.
Over time, Judge Tochka made an effort to reach out to more law students, providing them with the opportunity to volunteer their time to him, observe courtroom proceedings and enhance their legal research and writing skills. Word of the program began to spread and other BMC judges were eager to become involved.
In 2010, the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Section heard of this internship program and saw it as a unique opportunity for the BBA to use its resources to help expand and formalize this project as a modest but important step towards providing diverse law students with valuable mentoring and professional experience, and supporting the courts.
By the spring of 2011, the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Section conducted extensive outreach to career services offices at Boston law schools to recruit candidates who could benefit from semester long internships, and helped place students with judges.
Fast forward to the May 15, 2012 meeting of the BBA governing Council. . .
Following a presentation by BBA Diversity Section Co-Chair and Choate, Hall & Stewart partner, Macey Russell, the BBA Council voted to partner with the BMC to formalize this initiative for the purpose of helping to retain a diverse and inclusive population of young lawyers here in Boston.
Students are required to work 15 hours per week, with one day being in court. In addition to completing assigned tasks from their judge, they are required to work on the Massachusetts Case Summaries blog which summarizes important Massachusetts cases.
The next session will begin in the fall; applications will be accepted in August. Interested participants are encouraged to contact Susan Helm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-778-1984.
For an insider’s preview of the Pro Bono Unemployment Project, Beyond the Billable reached out to Lynn Girton, Chief Counsel at VLP and Monica Halas, senior attorney at GBLS to learn more about what the Project accomplishes, what attorney-volunteers can expect when they donate their time, and what difference volunteers make for the clients in these cases.
Q: What is the mission of the Pro Bono Unemployment Project?
A: Unemployed low income workers and their families need legal representation to obtain Unemployment Insurance (UI) and job training benefits. As individuals who are unemployed cannot afford to retain the services of the private bar, pro bono representation is critical to meet this serious and largely unmet need. Data accumulated nationally demonstrates that employers are four times as likely to be represented as claimants, and yet, when represented, claimants have a 30% greater chance of recovery.
UI benefits are a significant source of income for our clients. The maximum benefit is currently $653 a week plus an additional $25 a week per dependent (although capped at 50% of the unemployment check). In addition, those families whose income is 400% of poverty or less (all of our clients) are also eligible to participate in a health insurance program. As low wage employers increasingly offer no health insurance benefits, coupled with the new health care mandate, this is an important opportunity to provide a low income family with access to non-emergency, preventative care.
UI benefits are critical to keeping families out of poverty. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the receipt of UI benefits prevents up to 25% additional families from falling below the poverty line. During this economic recession where there are 6 applicants for every job, UI benefits – coupled with opportunities for job training to secure reemployment — are more necessary than ever.
Q: What is the time commitment and what type of support is provided to a volunteer?
A: These cases typically take no more than 10 to 15 hours of preparation (including the one hour hearing) and with experience, the time can be significantly reduced. The area of the law is not complex, the issues are primarily fact-based, and a hearing decision is generally received within a couple of weeks.
We have produced extensive training materials which we will provide t, we run periodic training for the bar in conjunction with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and we are also available to do a customized in-house two or three hour training at the convenience of any law firm that makes the request. By attending a training, attorneys are provided with all the substantive legal information they need to know as well as procedural tips honed from our over thirty years of practice in this area, so lawyers are able to come up to speed very quickly. The GBLS Employment Law Unit is also available to answer any questions to help you in representing your clients.
Q: Can you share examples of how pro bono representation can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case?
The client worked as a cleaner. She developed health problems and her doctor instructed her not to mop floors anymore. She requested a transfer to a different floor where she would not have to mop. Such transfers had been given to other workers. The employer told the client that if she was unable to mop the floor, they did not need her any longer. The client applied for unemployment benefits and she was denied. She filed an appeal. She was represented by a VLP pro bono attorney at the hearing. Subsequently, the hearing officer reversed the determination and awarded the client all the unemployment benefits to which she was entitled.
This client worked as a direct care worker in a person’s home. The employer alleged that the client left the person unattended. The client said that he had left the person in the care of another person. The employer fired the client and he applied for unemployment benefits. He was denied. He filed an appeal and was subsequently represented at the hearing by a VLP pro bono attorney. The hearing officer reversed the determination and awarded the client all the unemployment benefits to which he was entitled.
If you would like to register for this training, please click here.
Maribeth Perry, Executive Director of The Lawyers Clearinghouse speaking to attorney-volunteers.
In this competitive climate for funding, non-profits demonstrating sound management and controls will have a leg up over those raising red flags. Amid this backdrop, The Lawyers Clearinghouse –has launched a new Legal Assessment Program, and joined hands with the Business Law Public Service Committee of the Boston Bar Association to reach out to Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) Grantees and Grant applicants.
Managed by The Lawyers Clearinghouse, a grantee of the Boston Bar Foundation, the program provides a unique opportunity for BBA members to donate essential services to local non-profits.
“Many nonprofit leaders and staff spend their time running programs and providing direct services to their clients, often on a limited budget. This leaves little time and few resources to examine how the organization can run according to best practices. The Legal Assessment Program provides a preventive “Legal Checkup” where lawyers review and evaluate the corporate governance of the nonprofit to ensure that the organization meets legal requirements in the conduct of its business, ultimately strengthening the non-profit.” Maribeth Perry, Executive Director, Lawyers Clearinghouse.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for corporate attorneys to put their transactional legal skills to good use, and also involves rare social contact with the wider corporate legal community. This project permits attorneys from different firms and in-house counsel from different companies to team up on a single project.” –– Ben Bodamer, Senior Associate, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, BBA Business Law Public Service Committee Co-Chair.
If you have questions regarding the Legal Assessment Program, please contact Machiko Sano Hewitt at 617 778-1980 or email@example.com.
PILP member Emily Hodge speaking to a third grade class at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School
Walking into the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, a visitor is struck by the sheer amount of colors in the building. The hallways are awash in a bright and cheerful orange. Student drawings and elaborate crafts hang from the walls. Green plants line the window sill as a reminder of yesterday’s science lesson. There is no shortage of evidence that the Quincy School is an active and lively institution.
Emily and the students discuss the concept of “justice.”
This week, the students and educators of the Quincy School and other Boston Public Schools opened their doors to BBA lawyer-volunteers for the Law Day in the Schools program. The program is a Boston Bar Foundation-funded public service initiative that began in 1986 – to introduce legal concepts and ideals to students. Guided by the theme, “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom,” students participated in a mock trial designed to focus on due process and ensuring access to the justice system. With the assistance of volunteers, the students assumed the roles of the victim, the accused, law enforcement, prosecutor and defense counsel.
Students listen attentively as Emily speaks about the justice system in America
I arrived at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School for a Law Day class with Ms. Yang’s third grade class, and was escorted to the classroom by two bright and bubbly girls who had a lot of questions about being a lawyer. One said she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up – and also a fashion designer and a dentist. When I arrived in the classroom there was a lot of activity and energy. We began our Law Day discussion talking about what a lawyer or attorney is, and what they do. Almost all of the students knew what a lawyer was, some knew a few lawyers personally, and a couple of the students were sure they wanted to become lawyers when they grow up. We talked about what “justice” means, and the students offered up the following adjectives: fair, equal, liberty. Every student was engaged and enthusiastic. I encouraged the students to think about why we have a justice system, and about the role that lawyers might play in that system. The students offered up great ideas and were clearly thinking hard about the justice system and the role of lawyers.
We turned to the fact pattern, and reviewed it together as a group. The students were buzzing with comments about whether Tomika really could have taken Maria’s book bag. Most students seemed to think Tomika was innocent, but others noted, “what about the fact that her locker was locked with the bag inside?” We split into groups, and everyone had a lot to say about their roles – some were excited, and others found it hard to think about the case from a point of view they didn’t agree with. Each of the groups had energetic discussions about what their arguments would be, and every one of the group representatives made compelling arguments. It was incredible to watch the students argue their positions – one, who played Tomika, adamantly asserted that Maria had accused her simply because her brother was in jail and the girls were no longer friends, which was “just not fair.” Another stepped up without any notes and delivered the position of the police officer in a clear and confident voice, asserting that the bag was found in Tomika’s locked locker, so it made sense to accuse her. Some students thought very creatively about the case and really worked to make the best arguments they could for their positions. The defendant and her counsel each decided that the true explanation for the theft of Maria’s backpack was that Katie, the accuser, had framed Tomika – that Katie had watched Tomika enter the combination to her locker and gone back later to put Maria’s bag inside!
Participating in Law Day was a great way to step outside the daily practice of law and take part in educating young students about the role that the law, justice and lawyers might play in their own lives. Each of the students seemed to think hard about what it might mean to participate in a case like this one, and how important it was to have a process and a system in place to ensure that every voice was heard. Listening to the students’ thoughts about justice and our legal system was fascinating, and it was rewarding and inspiring to see how energized the students were about vigorously defending each of their positions.
A Snapshot of the Boston Public Schools:
The BPS consists of 125 schools
57,000 students are enrolled in the BPS
78% of BPS students are eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals in school
53% of students are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
43% of students speak a language other than English as their first language
BPS students come from more than 110 countries and speak 77 different languages
On Saturday, April 21st, 25 volunteers organized by the BBA’s New Lawyers Section joined in an effort to clean up the banks of the Charles River. This event ties in with the BBA’s Task Force on Environmental Sustainability, a group charged with expanding the BBA’s public service capacity to include volunteer opportunities that benefit the environment. To read more about the work of the Task Force, please visit The Sustainable Lawyer, the BBA’s blog dedicated to issues of environmental sustainability.
The event, coordinated by the Charles River Watershed Association, marked the 13th Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup. It’s estimated that some 4,000 volunteers from Milford to Boston removed 15-20 tons of rubbish from alongside the River and the surrounding areas.
BBA Members Gather to Volunteer for the 13th AnnualCharles River Clean Up.
Joanna Allison Staff Attorney at the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Chris Saccardi, Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi. (Photo Credit Eric Fullerton)
When you arrive at the Boston Bar Association Housing Court Lawyer for the Day (“Housing Court”) on Thursday, one thing you can be sure of is that Attorney Chris Saccardi will be there. Since 2009, Chris has donated his time every Thursday to assist unrepresented landlords and tenants on Eviction Day. As he gained more experience and knowledge, he began to take pro bono cases for full representation and eventually focused his private practice in the area of landlord/tenant law. Chris’ consistent presence has led to him being the go-to private attorney for recruiting and supervising other attorneys in the project.
We reached out to Chris to find out — why he donates his time to this Program, what some of his most meaningful memories are as a volunteer and asked him to share any tips for new volunteers.
Why does he give his time?
A significant majority of the people we assist are low-income or disabled, frequently don’t speak English as their first language, and are often unable to afford counsel. They typically face a landlord represented by an experienced attorney and the stakes could not be higher – the potential loss of their home or their rent subsidy. I think that it is very important to try to level this playing field and I have found that a little bit of legal advice can make a big difference. I also enjoy meeting and working with a wide variety of attorneys from various types of practices. I have made a lot of lasting friendships that have been important to me both personally and professionally. Finally, I have learned a tremendous amount both by taking on challenging cases and by asking questions of more experienced attorneys. This knowledge has been immensely helpful to me in my own practice.
Chris’ most memorable experiences as a volunteer:
I have found my pro bono work at the Housing court extremely gratifying. I helped a woman with an extremely sick child stay in her apartment by explaining to the landlord that the reason for her missed rent payments was her preoccupation with the health of her daughter. By arranging for a payment plan and actively monitoring her progress, I was able to get her back on track and concentrate on supporting her daughter.
In another instance, I spoke with an elderly tenant early in the day and was able to intercept the opposing counsel before she requested a hearing in front of a judge, which would have likely not gone well for the tenant. Instead, we were able to work out a simple repayment agreement that satisfied both parties. The tenant was so happy that she actually grabbed me and gave me a hug after the agreement had been signed.
In another case, I spoke with a tenant who I quickly came to understand had exhausted her legal options and was likely to be evicted. I sat down with her and listened to her story and gave her some advice about options for requesting a bit more time from the judge before her inevitable move-out date. When we were finished speaking, I expected her to be depressed by the disheartening news I had just given her. Instead she gave me a big smile and thanked me for my time, saying that this had been the first time someone had actually sat down and took the time to listen to her. I continue to be amazed at how much of a difference a little advice or a few kind words can make to many of the litigants I speak to at the Housing Court.
Chris’ advice to a new volunteer:
I would encourage them to participate! If they do, I suggest that they try to take as active a role as possible. While it may take a few sessions for new volunteers to start to feel knowledgeable, I suggest that they start talking to clients as soon as they can. There are always more experienced attorneys available to assist should a new attorney run into an issue with which they are not familiar. I suggest shadowing a more experienced attorney and attending a mediation, which is a great way to learn about the substantive housing issues in a typical case and to see first-hand how the procedures of the Housing Court play out.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, the Volunteer Lawyers Project in partnership with the Real Estate section of the Boston Bar Association will be having a training on “Trying a case in Boston Housing Court.” The esteemed panel includes the Honorable Jeffrey Winik, First Justice of the Boston Housing Court, Stefanie Balandis, Greater Boston Legal Services, Joanna Allison, Volunteer Lawyers Project and, of course, Chris Saccardi, the Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi.
*There is no fee for this program, but we ask that attendees put their new skills to work by taking on a pro bono case through the Volunteer Lawyers Project.