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Bar News - December 19, 2008


Chapter 4: Diversifying Opportunities for Attorney Participation and Client Services

Assisting new members of the Bar in learning family law and finding their way in NH practice, the Pro Bono program has conducted several "Divorce Camp" sessions to provide an intensive introduction into the work needed to represent actual Pro Bono clients. Facing the camera, left to right are Marital Masters Michael Garner and Pamela Kelly, and Pro Bono Program Director Ginny Martin.

For 15 years, the Quid Pro Bono Golf tournament has been a winning event – raising tens of thousands of dollars for Pro Bono, and bringing Bar members together for a good time -- and a good cause. Pictured left to right are retired Chief Justice David A. Brock, retired Superior Court Judge Arthur Bean, Associate Justice William Batchelder, and attorney David Nixon. Judges Batchelder and Bean are honorary co-chairs of the event.

Pro Bono’s efforts are built on the synergistic relationship between attorneys’ professional responsibilities to perform public service and the critical legal issues of people living in poverty. Pro Bono is the catalyst facilitating the connection between the two groups to serve both their interests in seeing justice done. Over the years the Program’s meshing of client need and attorney volunteerism has resulted in diverse programming and has produced win-win-win results.

Still vibrant and necessary today, the Domestic Violence Emergency Project (DOVE) represents the first targeted response by Pro Bono to an urgent legal need requiring a different approach to assure meaningful access. Launched in 1993, the Project provides expedited legal services to victims of domestic abuse in need of representation at final restraining order hearings. The model involves a unique collaboration with the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and its affiliated crisis centers. Considered an exemplary program by the ABA, DOVE recruits, trains and provides supportive services to participating attorneys, who take on the limited but critical role of representing victims at 173-B hearings, where not only safety is addressed but also the key economic issues of child support: use of home and car. During the ensuing 15 years, several thousand victims have received legal services helping to extricate themselves and their children from the bonds of abuse and control.

Seizing the opportunity afforded by an IRS grant, Pro Bono developed its Pro Bono Low-Income Taxpayer Project six years ago. The project has given tax attorneys an avenue for meeting their Pro Bono responsibilities, which previously proved elusive. In addition to attorneys, CPAs have been enlisted to support our volunteer attorneys’ efforts. As a result, lower-income workers facing tax disputes have the opportunity for counsel and representation in navigating the maze of IRS rules and procedures, which can make all the difference.

Pro Bono’s Elder Law Project is designed to reach more seniors who could benefit from legal representation, whether for estate planning, debt relief or preservation of shelter. The Project involves a clinical approach in part as manifested by a recent wills clinic where seniors were able to access legal information and assistance in drafting essential planning documents.

These three initiatives—DOVE, the Elder Law and Taxpayer Projects—are possible in significant part due to dedicated funding. In 1997, Martin began reaching out to bring additional dollars into Pro Bono to strengthen its programming and secured the Program’s first successful grant to the State Department of Justice for a STOP Violence Against Women Act grant, a key ongoing source of support for DOVE. Pro Bono also receives two sub-grants from NHLA, one derived from federal VAWA monies to support the programs’ collaborative Domestic Violence Advocacy Project, and the other based on an Administration on Aging grant, which supports part of Pro Bono’s services to senior citizens. Pro Bono’s Taxpayer Project is made possible in significant part by a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic Grant from the Internal Revenue Service, which funds staffing; attorney recruitment and training efforts.

While other grants are dedicated to a particular issue, IOLTA’s support for general operating expenses gives Pro Bono the flexibility to address emerging client needs as well as the "bread and butter" issues of consumer, housing and family law. The programming below reflects Pro Bono’s nimble application of IOLTA-funded staffing to tackle new and urgent problems:

• An SSI Children’s Disability Project, partnering with NHLA to represent parents of disabled children facing loss of their federal benefits.

• A Military Pro Bono Project, launched first in 2001 and renewed in 2003/04 to provide basic estate planning services to national guardsmen and women facing call-ups to Afghanistan and Iraq.

• SWAT (Swift Working Attorneys for Tenants) Teams, launched at the Devine, Millimet firm with a handful of associates to provide emergency representation to low-income tenants facing loss of shelter, Pro Bono has expanded this project to Concord, Nashua and Portsmouth.

• A Special Education Project, conducted in partnership with the Disabilities Rights Center to expand the pool of private attorneys handling special education cases for low-income children.

• Divorce Camp, coordinated with the Legal Advice and Referral Center to augment the number of attorneys handling family law cases by offering a hands-on, progressive series of classes in exchange for joining the Pro Bono panel and taking cases, revived in 2008.

• Bankruptcy Clinics, launched in 2005 to help consumers secure a fresh financial start before the onset of the Bankruptcy Reform Act with its new restrictions.

Two other fund-raising efforts round out Pro Bono’s revenue sources – the Quid Pro Bono Golf Tournament and the Campaign for Legal Services. As with IOLTA, these funding streams give Pro Bono the flexibility to do the bread and butter work of the organization and to respond to critical needs as they emerge.

Shortly before the funding crisis of the mid 1990’s struck, Pro Bono had already seen the need to raise additional monies to help meet the demands of attorney involvement and client need. In 1993, lawyers and judges played in the first Quid Pro Bono Golf Tournament, the Program’s sole fund-raising event. The Tournament has grown both in numbers of players, extra hours donated by staff, and sponsors to make it one of the leading non-profit tournaments in the state. With a loyal following of players and Judges William Batchelder and Arthur Bean as honorary co-chairs, the Tournament netted almost $17,000 in 2008.

Campaign for Legal Services

Pro Bono, LARC and New Hampshire Legal Assistance merged their individual attorney fund-raising efforts about five years ago to make one "ask" for support. Originally launched in collaboration with the NH Bar Foundation, the campaign became independent once it became. (See story on page 13.)

"Impact" Work

To keep its operations relevant and agile, the Pro Bono staff and board have also been involved in identifying systemic issues and formulating potential broad-scale solutions. Providing a unified voice to help elevate and shape policy within the court system, Pro Bono has sought to enhance the judiciary’s appreciation for the work of volunteer attorneys and a broader understanding of the needs of low-income litigants.

Unbundled Rules--Taking a leadership role, Pro Bono Board Chair John Norton, Pro Bono Director Ginny Martin and others developed proposed unbundled or limited scope rules as a way of expanding access opportunities for lower-income litigants and service/representation opportunities for attorneys. Pro Bono focused its efforts on changes to court rules to allow limited appearances in litigated matters. Advocating before the Court Rules Committee, Norton and Martin stressed the need to overcome the barrier to Pro Bono participation of "once you are in, you can’t get out," which gives volunteers pause in accepting cases on an open-ended basis.

Once the rules were adopted, Norton and Martin worked with the courts to develop a simple one-page limited appearance form that is being used today. Ghost-writing was the other major focus of Pro Bono’s advocacy and Norton offered the Court several alternatives to address "behind-the-scene" drafting of pleadings and other court documents by attorneys. For these efforts, the NH Bar Association received the ABA’s prestigious Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access in 2007.

Rule 6.1 – The Pro Bono Program was an active player in supporting New Hampshire’s adoption of a new pro bono rule (Rule 6.1) that closely follows the ABA’s model rule regarding pro bono publico service. The new rule, effective January 1, 2008, provides more precise definition of what is and what is not pro bono work, with the focus on direct representation of the indigent. In collaboration with the Bar’s CLE Department, the Pro Bono Program offered a continuing legal education seminar on the rule via a webcast to reach a wide spectrum of attorneys. NH Supreme Court, Justice James Duggan served on the faculty to provide the Court’s perspective.

Judicial Support

While adequate funding is essential for Pro Bono to survive and thrive, another key to the program’s viability entails support from the judiciary. When on the NH Supreme Court bench, former Chief Justice David Brock and Associate Justice Joseph Nadeau were instrumental in launching "Take One Case for Justice," calling on law firms to step up to the plate and accept one case per attorney per year.

In recent years, the NH Supreme Court has strengthened this tradition. As well as adopting rules on pro bono publico service and unbundled representation, the Court actively encourages and recognizes Pro Bono involvement. Accompanied by the Pro Bono Director Ginny Martin, Chief Justice John Broderick visited more than a dozen of New Hampshire’s largest law firms in 2007/08 to enlist their involvement in providing legal services to those in need. The Court recently noted exemplary service by a half dozen firms at an awards ceremony. The Chief Justice routinely writes personal notes to attorneys listed on Pro Bono’s monthly honor roll and has urged all courts to give scheduling preference when feasible to attorneys representing Pro Bono clients

The Court’s commitment to improving access of Granite State citizens to the justice system is exemplified by its creation of the NH Access to Justice Commission., co-chaired by Associate Justice James Duggan and U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe. Pro Bono is very involved in the Commission’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee, which has taken on the role of statewide planning convener for LARC, NHLA and Pro Bono.

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