Monthly Archives: October 2012
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.
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. 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.