Daily Archives: Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pro Bono Spotlight: DLA Piper


Beyond the Billable is introducing a new feature: Pro Bono Spotlight! In this monthly column, we will catch up with law firms that have dedicated time and resources to public service and pro bono projects.

For our first Pro Bono Spotlight, we spoke to DLA Piper Partner Geoff Howell, who has gotten a team of attorneys at the firm involved with the Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) Housing Clinic on Mondays. The Clinic is designed to help pro se litigants better advocate for themselves in housing court.

What inspired DLA Piper and you personally to get involved with the Housing Clinic? Can you talk about some of the benefits to clients, volunteer attorneys, and the court system as a whole?

I am on the GBLS board and have been talking with them for a long time about the possibility of creating a pro bono project that would allow us to work together. DLA Piper encourages its offices to create “signature” projects that can involve everyone in the office, address issues that are of importance to the community, and have a lasting impact. We packaged together a group of GBLS-related pro bono projects, including the housing clinic, to create a “signature” project in the office.

The benefits of doing this project are many, including providing our attorneys with an opportunity to see how GBLS operates on a day-to-day basis. In addition, of course, a lawyer has an ethical duty to provide pro bono services.  Our lawyers prefer to fulfill that obligation by giving back to the community in which we work. We also value the opportunity to give young attorneys  the opportunity to engage in client counseling. Another ancillary benefit is that the participants in the clinic are better able to represent themselves pro se on their day in housing court, which hopefully helps streamline the court process.

What is the format of the program?

The clinic participants are people who have called or walked into GBLS for assistance on an eviction matter, and have already received a summons and complaint. They are people GBLS cannot take as clients because of staffing constraints. Attendees come to the clinic, which takes 3-4 hours, and they are then prepared to file paperwork in response to the complaint and to represent themselves on the day of their court appearance.

Is there an anecdote from a particular case that you think speaks to the benefit of GBLS’s Housing Clinic and programs like it?

It is very common to encounter a situation where the tenant simply does not understand his or her rights and cannot easily defend against the eviction, or, alternatively, counterclaim to create the leverage needed for a negotiated settlement that will allow them to stay at home. For example, some tenants do not realize they can push for a reduction in rent and/or damages due to bad conditions in the apartment that the landlord must remedy by law.

This week, we helped an elderly woman with dementia build her case so that she can, at worst, appeal for the equitable right to extend the period prior to the effective date of any eviction. At best, she will be able to get the court to require the landlord to adjust its rules to accommodate her disability, which should permit her to continue to stay in her apartment. She was assisted by a social worker, which, unfortunately, is often not the case for the clients of the clinic.

Why would you encourage an attorney in your firm to get involved in this particular partnership between GBLS and DLA Piper?

It is a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of the housing crisis in the city, counsel clients who really need the help, and assist GBLS. It is also an honor and a privilege to work with the GBLS housing attorneys, who are the very best in the business. Barbara Zimbel, Jay Rose, Mac Mcreight and their whole team have been fantastic teachers, hosts and mentors to us.

Why would you encourage attorneys in general to take on pro bono cases?

We have an ethical duty to engage in pro bono and a moral obligation to support organizations like GBLS In addition, the work is rewarding, the clients are appreciative, and it helps attorneys hone their practice skills.

What else should people know about this program?

We hope to enlist other law firms in the city into taking clinic days each month. The clinic runs each Monday and currently GBLS staffs most of them. It would be great to have outside firms handle them all, with minimal supervision from GBLS. That would free up more GBLS time to handle more complicated housing cases and matters. We also refer clients to the BBA’s Lawyer for a Day program in the event that they are going to be appearing in Boston Housing Court, making the programs a good compliment to one another.

Firms interested in participating should feel free to contact me or Thanos Matthai of this office with questions and to get connected to GBLS. I also must give Thanos full credit for his role as the co-leader of our firm’s effort. He has been a great supporter of GBLS and terrific presenter of the clinic.

BBA Volunteers at Greater Boston Food Bank


Last week, eight BBA members joined a group of other volunteers at the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to pitch in sorting and packaging food.

The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, and among the largest food banks in the country. Last year, they distributed more than 54 million pounds of food, enough to provide healthy meals to over 500,000 people

The GBFB also sees over 25,000 volunteers annually. Some help sort the food, like the BBA group did, while others help distribute the food to agencies and individuals and families who need it.

We are grateful to the GBFB for having us! Our volunteers had an amazing experience. If you are interested in more volunteer opportunities with the BBA, here is what we have coming up:

Annual Charles River Clean Up
Saturday, April 30, 2016 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Volunteer on the Farm: The Food Project Serve & Grow
Saturday, May 7, 2016 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Spring Woodland Restoration Event at Roslindale Urban Wild
Friday, May 13, 2016 9:30 AM to 12:00 PM

Retired, Esq: Access to Justice Fellows Offer Vital Pro Bono Expertise


Legal Services organizations need attorneys. Attorneys looking for pro bono work need the time and resources to complete it. One way to bridge that gap is to recruit retired lawyers into partnering with legal services organizations on important projects related to improving access to justice.

That’s how the Access to Justice Fellows Program was born.

A program run by the Lawyers Clearinghouse in collaboration with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Access to Justice Commission, the Access to Justice Fellows Program pairs attorneys who have retired or are approaching retirement with organizations who need their services.

Here’s a snapshot of their five years of pro bono work, which Program Director Mia Friedman presented at a panel on the program hosted by the BBA’s Delivery of Legal Services section this week:

  • 7 fellows participated during the program’s first year
  • 19 fellows are now active in the Access to Justice Fellows program
  • 55 fellows have participated in the program over five years
  • They have completed at least 40,000 hours of legal work

Program Director Mia Friedman said most of the attorneys who participate choose to stay with their project for longer than the mandatory commitment of one year. The work done by attorneys in the program varies greatly, from immigration and tax-related matters to probate and family cases. They work for 10-20 hours per week with the organization to which they volunteer their services.

“One of the important aspects of the program is the monthly lunches” where attorneys in the program get together, Friedman said. “It has developed into this wonderful exchange of ideas and a real sense of community between the fellows.”

To learn how you can get involved with the Access to Justice Fellows program, please visit http://www.lawyersclearinghouse.org/access-to-justice-fellows/.