Barbara Mitchell, former Executive Director of Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (CLSACC), talked to law students and new lawyers about volunteer opportunities at last year’s Pro Bono Fair.
Have you been searching for the perfect pro bono opportunity? Head on over to Suffolk Law School this Monday between 4:30-6 pm for the BBA and Suffolk’s annual Pro Bono Fair. Representatives from local legal services organizations will be onsite to discuss opportunities to volunteer with their organizations. The event draws over 300 law students and attorneys each year. Don’t miss out on the chance to celebrate Pro Bono Month by finding your next volunteer opportunity!
Martina Vandenberg (The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center) and Julie Dahlstrom (Casa Myrna and Boston University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic) led a training on using federal law to obtain justice for trafficking survivors.
At the end of September, the BBA hosted a very special guest from Washington, DC. Martina Vandenberg, the President and Founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center traveled to the BBA to lead a training on using federal law to obtain justice for trafficking survivors. She was joined by local expert, Julie Dahlstrom, a Senior Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna and Clinical Legal Fellow at the Boston University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic.
In the United States, trafficking survivors rarely have access to justice. In 2013, federal prosecutors brought just 161 criminal cases against traffickers in the entire country. Pro bono attorneys can play a huge role in advocating for the rights of survivors. We reached out to Attorney Vandenberg to learn more about the training. Take a look below to learn more:
What do you hope attendees learned from the program?
I hope that the attorneys who participated learned: 1) that pro bono lawyers can make a significant difference in the lives of trafficking survivors; 2) that trafficking survivors have the right to sue their traffickers for damages in federal court; and 3) that pro bono attorneys can get involved by volunteering with a local non-governmental organization or with HT Pro Bono [The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center]. Pro bono attorneys have a fantastic track record in this field. HT Pro Bono has one key goal: ensuring that every trafficking victim who wants a lawyer gets a pro bono lawyer.
Why should attorneys get involved in pro bono human trafficking work?
This is some of the most rewarding pro bono work that an attorney can do. The cases are compelling. The clients are inspiring. Civil litigation against human traffickers draws on skills that attorneys in private practice have already mastered. Trafficking work also provides an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of a new legal field. In October 2015, pro bono attorneys at WilmerHale filed the first-ever federal human trafficking civil suit ever brought in Massachusetts. Pro bono attorneys can also fight to vacate convictions resulting from crimes that traffickers forced the victims to commit. This is pro bono work that provides intellectual challenge, direct client interaction, and concrete results in trafficking survivors’ lives. It is also an area where extensive technical assistance is available — from HT Pro Bono, from local NGO attorneys, and from experts throughout the United States.
If you’re feeling inspired to get involved in pro bono opportunities of any kind after reading this article, don’t miss the Pro Bono Fair at Suffolk University this Monday, October 19th from 4:30-6:00 pm. Representatives from local legal service organizations will be onsite to tell you about opportunities to volunteer with their organizations. Click here to learn more.
Last week, the BBA kicked off the first of three pro bono trainings to help build the inaugural low-income taxpayer pro bono panel of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Greater Boston Legal Services. As you may remember from this article, the Boston Bar Foundation also supports the Low-Income Tax Clinic (LITC). Beyond the Billable reached out to Keith Fogg, the Director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, to learn more about the training. Here’s what he had to say:
Why should attorneys join the low-income tax pro bono panel?
It’s an easy way for them to receive pro bono case referrals. They can refer individuals seeking pro bono assistance to one of the clinics to vet, and then get the cases that meet the pro bono criteria. Aside from using the panel as a screening mechanism for handling pro bono cases, attorneys receive support on their cases from the clinicians if questions arise about facts or law in the cases they receive.
Also, working cases from the pro bono panel provides the opportunity to handle tax controversy cases the attorney might not handle in their ordinary practice, and so they can learn from the experience and gain valuable skills that might assist them in their practice.
But even without the other professional benefits mentioned, helping others who need it is very rewarding. Pro bono panels provide an opportunity to help others while using and honing the skills that tax attorneys have learned through training and practice. Rather than engaging in pro bono assistance in an area of the law in which they do not ordinarily practice, being a part of the pro bono tax panel will put their skills to use.”
Most of the clients seeking help do so because they cannot pay the liability already assessed against them. This makes the collection panel the most relevant to pro bono practice. Some of the clients with collection problems really need assistance reopening the question of whether they owe. Others have no basis for challenging the assessment but very low prospects for paying the debt. These clients need assistance pulling together their financial information in order to make a successful presentation to the IRS to obtain debt relief through an offer in compromise, debt forbearance through currently not collectible designation or debt postponement through an installment agreement. The program will explain how to work with the client and the IRS to achieve a beneficial resolution.”
Click here to learn more about the upcoming collection panel.
The day was hectic. More than 200 people from 29 different countries arrived, some of them coming from adverse circumstances, some of them confused by the process they had to go through to apply to become a U.S. citizen.
On September 26, those gathered at the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury represented just a small part of a population with a huge unmet need – immigrants who need assistance filling out their applications for citizenship. That’s why the BBA partnered with Project Citizenship to hold a training prior to Citizenship Day in Boston, where volunteers learned how they could help.
But for Wadner Oge, Staff Attorney with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, the focus of the day quickly shifted from processing applications to facilitating conversations. Wadner, who was born in Haiti and became a citizen in 2000, volunteered to act as a translator shortly after arriving. Of the 242 applicants for citizenship that day, 76 of them were from Haiti – the highest number from any single country. Wadner immediately recognized a need for volunteers who spoke their native language.
“As a interpreter, I had to be able to interact with the group of the people that the service (Citizenship Day) was designed for,” he said. “There was a misconception among some of them about how the process works, so I explained it to many of them in Haitian Creole. It was a very busy day and a lot of people came. I was very happy to be in a position to help.”
Wadner said he was motivated to get involved due to the high price of an attorney to assist with a citizenship application under normal circumstances. He estimated the average attorney might charge as much as $1,000, money that many immigrants can’t spare.
To Analisa Smith-Perez, a BBA member who works at the Brooke courthouse, the most moving part of her volunteer experience at Citizenship Day was watching 175 people sworn in as citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the school.
“What I really loved about the whole day was that here, you’re helping people, and then you get to see what happens at the end of the whole process if everything goes according to plan,” she said.
Analisa volunteers actively with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and considers herself familiar with the many obstacles those who hope to become citizens face. Events like Citizenship Day can help prevent immigrants from turning to someone for legal help who may not have a law degree and may take advantage of them, Analisa said.
“There are so many instances of fraud, especially in the immigrant community, that we need to fight against,” she said. “Sometimes these people charge an exorbitant amount of money, they don’t necessarily do a good job, and once you make a mistake on your paperwork, you get rejected. They don’t always necessarily tell you why you got rejected. It isn’t cheap, and it’s very disheartening. It can make a person just want to stop trying.”
Analisa said she would encourage anyone to get involved and volunteer with Citizenship Day and other pro bono opportunities.
“It’s important to do this type of work because it emphasizes and reaffirms why I became an attorney in the first place. I became an attorney to help people,” she said. “When you do a project like this, it reminds you so much of the human element that is always present in what we do.”
Governor Charlie Baker presented BBA President Lisa Arrowood with his proclamation of October as Pro Bono Month at Annual Meeting.
Tomorrow’s the first day of October, which means only one thing in the legal community—the start of Pro Bono Month. It turns out we aren’t the only fans of this month. If you attended the BBA’s Annual Meeting a few weeks ago, you may remember Governor Charlie Baker, our keynote speaker, handing a copy of his proclamation for Pro Bono Month to BBA President Lisa Arrowood on stage.
In additional to the Governor’s proclamation, the BBA has its own resolution. Check it out below:
Recognizing October as Pro Bono Month
Whereas, the promise of equal justice under law is the most fundamental tenet of our justice system; and
Whereas, the bench and bar face a crisis of unmet need for legal representation for the poor; and
Whereas, Boston attorneys donate thousands of hours of pro bono legal services and make annual financial contributions directly to legal services organizations, to help address the huge unmet need for legal assistance to Boston’s poor, especially in light of the current economic situation; and
Whereas, the Boston Bar Association actively promotes pro bono participation in a variety of ways on an ongoing basis and gives special recognition annual for outstanding pro bono contributions made by its members; and
Whereas, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has designated October as Pro Bono Month to recognize the valuable pro bono contributions made by lawyers throughout the year, and to increase pro bono participation across the state to narrow the justice gap;
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved that the Boston Bar Association recognizes October as Pro Bono Month, commends Boston attorneys for their ongoing pro bono contributions, and reminds all members that by engaging in pro bono work and providing financial support they can made a significant difference in the lives of Boston’s poor who would not otherwise have access to the legal system.
If you’re looking to get in the spirit of Pro Bono Month, don’t miss the “Lawyer for the Day Training: Fair Debt Collection” Pro Bono Training on Thursday, October 8th. It’s a great way to gain new skills and give back through the Volunteer Lawyers Project’s Fair Debt Collection Program. Click here to learn more.
The BBA interns headed to Housing Court last week to see the Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court Program in action.
Guest Post: Elijah Oyenuga is one of the Summer Jobs Student working at the Boston Bar Association. He recently graduated from Another Course to College in Brighton and will be attending Lesley University next year.
Imaging the chaos of Boston Housing Court was one thing, but viewing it was a whole different experience. My fellow interns and I paid a visit to the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse last week. We didn’t exactly get a standard tour, but we were able to see what Housing Court is really like for the people involved. There were lots of people crowding around the volunteers participating in the Lawyer for the Day Program, carts filled with filed paperwork and people waiting adamantly for roll call to begin. I have to say that it wasn’t what I expected. The day began with people crowding into the courtroom, squishing themselves in seats or standing against the wall as the court officer ordered everyone to stay clear of the doors.
I believed that we were going to be here for hours as they went through each individual case. Instead, each case went rapidly as they called for the tenant and the landlord and for a lot of the cases; one or both parties were not present. But for those who were, they were asked whether they were willing to go to mediation or go to trial and most chose mediation over trial. In all honesty, it was a tedious process; we probably went through forty different cases, so to say the least, I was glad when we finally transitioned to trial.
The Housing Court trials were a great learning experience and they really opened my eyes to the importance of representation. There was a specific case in which one of the parties, the tenant, was pro se and the landlord was represented by a lawyer. There was a significant difference in the way they were able to articulate themselves. The lawyer, who was more articulate, had too much of an advantage over a woman who clearly spoke English as a second language. In addition to that, she had gotten some awful advice from a lawyer stating that if there was construction being done in the apartment, she wouldn’t have to move out if she missed a payment. I could clearly see the difference between having a lawyer standing up for you and not having one. There were other trials that were very engaging and I am very thankful to the BBA for giving me the opportunity to visit the court.
“The bottom line is that this is no time for complacency. Right now, across the globe, victims of human trafficking are daring to imagine the possibility of escape, the chance for a life without fear, and the opportunity to earn a living wage…We hear you, and we will do all we can to make that dream come true.” – John F. Kerry, Secretary of State
On Monday the U.S. State Department released its annual Trafficking on Persons Report, which ranks 188 countries on their efforts to combat trafficking. The report aims to assist international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations to examine where resources are most needed.
Want to know what you can do to help? In an effort to raise awareness about this important issue and to prepare attorneys to assist victims of trafficking, the BBA is holding a training on Wednesday, September 30th from 4-6 pm called “Justice for Trafficking Victims: Civil Litigation, Vacatur, Criminal Restitution and the Pro Bono Bar.”
We are honored to host Martina Vandenberg, the President and Founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center in Washington, DC. She will join local expert, Julie Dahlstrom, a Clinical Legal Fellow at the Boston University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic, for this much anticipated program.
Don’t miss this important and compelling program. Click here to learn more.
Attendees of Passport to Pairings will travel throughout the offices of 16 Beacon Street to stations holding different food and beverage pairings, each representing a project benefited by the event.
Are you coming to Passport to Pairings next Thursday? If you can pull yourself away from the delicious food and drinks, be sure to ask our volunteers and staff about the programs featured at the event. Take a look below for a cheat-sheet highlighting the programs:
Law Day in the Schools: Every spring, join lawyers from all over the city to visit classes across the Boston public school system to teach students about different topics related to the law. This year our volunteers taught over 1000 students from kindergarten to seniors in high school about the Magna Carta.
Military & Veterans Legal Help Line: The BBA Lawyer Referral Service has a dedicated line to connect servicemembers and their families to legal assistance. The line has fielded over 600 calls since the BBA LRS became home to the Military& Veterans Legal Help Line in September 2013.
Pro Bono Trainings: Every year the BBA partners with legal service organizations and the Courts to hold pro bono trainings to address the unmet legal needs in our community. Over the past two years, the BBA has held 34 pro bono trainings on topics, including Veterans Discharge Appeal, Special Advocacy for At-Risk Youth, and Landlord Tenant Law.
M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program: Volunteers work in pairs to teach high school students throughout the state about personal finance & budgeting, using credit, buying a car, and the consequences of making poor financial decisions. Since the program began 11 years ago, volunteers have taught over 4,500 students statewide how to make informed financial decisions. This program is conducted through a partnership between the United States Bankruptcy Court of the District of Massachusetts and the BBA.
Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court: Every Wednesday and Thursday volunteer attorneys offer legal assistance to landlords and tenants at the Boston Housing Court. Since the program began 15 years ago, over 13,000 volunteers have helped more than 16,000 pro se landlords and tenants.
Reentry Education Program: The program provides information to federal probations through monthly workshops on key civil legal issues that they may face in reentering society, including finding affordable housing, CORI management and public benefits.
Click here to buy tickets and to learn more about the event.
Panelist share what they know about veterans discharge upgrade cases with attorneys interested in taking on similar cases.
Did you know that veterans who receive a less than honorable discharge may not be eligible for VA health care or other veterans benefits that they need to maintain a stable life? This past Tuesday, attorneys gathered at the BBA for training on how to best represent veterans in discharge upgrade cases.
Panelist Dana Montalto (Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School), Daniel Nagin (Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School), Major Susan Lynch (U.S. Army Reserve), Dr. Sandy Dixon (William James College), and Betsy Gwin (Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School) gave an in depth training that prepped attorneys with information about relevant military review board procedures and regulations. The attorneys who attended this training are now eligible to join the inaugural pro bono discharge-upgrade panel of the Veterans Legal Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. The clinic allows attorneys and law students to represent veterans and their families in cases to obtain maximum stability and well-being.
Here is what panelists Dana Montalto and Dan Nagin had to say about why they believe it is important for attorneys to join the veteran’s pro bono discharge-upgrade panel:
“Despite a consistently high demand for assistance, remarkably few lawyers are available to represent veterans separated under less than honorable conditions in correcting that status and even fewer available to represent low-income veterans pro bono. By uniting the experience and expertise of the Legal Services Center with the dedication and civic-mindedness of private attorneys, the Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership can help close that gap. We look forward to working with the many attorneys who have joined to Pro Bono Partnership to ensure fairness and justice for those who served our country.”
“Providing pro bono representation to veterans who have unmet legal needs is our shared obligation as a profession. Veterans who unjustly received a less-than-honorable discharge are among the veterans who need our help. Providing pro bono representation in discharge upgrade and correction of military record cases can help restore honor to these veterans’ military service and remove barriers that deny them critical services and resources.”
If you missed the training but are still interested in getting involved, please contact Katie D’Angelo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Access to Justice Fellows program seeks to reduce the impact funding cutbacks have had on legal services by engaging retired lawyers who wish to remain active through pro bono work.
Last Friday, a group of senior lawyers got together with a panel of current and former Access to Justice Fellows (ATJF), as well as a representative from one of the host organizations, to discuss their experiences with the program. The ATJF program pairs lawyers who are retired or transitioning to retirement with non-profit and legal services organizations to provide critical assistance to underserved individuals. The panelists Samantha Morton (Medical Legal Partnership), Martha Koster (Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.), William Patton, and Jordan P. Krasnow (Goulston & Storrs PC) shared some advice about how to get involved with the program.
Here’s what panelist Bill Patton had to say about why he believes it is important to get involved:
“The Access to Justice Fellows program is an opportunity for lawyers in retirement or in transition to continue to use their skills and experience in helping people or non-profit organizations that would otherwise have no access to legal advice or representation. One of the best things about the program is the monthly lunches with other fellows to learn about what others are doing and to share ideas.”