By Tom Jarvis
Sonya Bellafant, Executive Director of 603 Legal Aid, was among the 28 new admittees to the New Hampshire Bar on November 17th. A transplant from Nashville, Tenn., she became Executive Director of the Legal Advice and Referral Center in April 2021 and then oversaw the merger with the Pro Bono Referral Program to form 603 Legal Aid in June 2021.
Earlier in November, 603 Legal Aid was awarded a grant from the NH Bar Foundation in the amount of $32,500 to overhaul their website for increased accessibility and ease of use for their applicants. Bellafant was grateful for the grant, saying that it “will also help us expand the call center so we can manage more applicants, be they online or telephonic.” Previous grants from the Bar Foundation have also enabled them to purchase equipment needed to establish a formal call center at their new location on 93 North State Street and to onboard a new, more efficient telephone system, Nextiva.
The Bar Foundation has made grants totaling over $32 million since 1977. The funding, through the IOLTA and Justice Grant Programs, supports organizations that provide legal services to low-income individuals with limited access to the justice system.
Bellafant indicated that she also hopes to expand 603 Legal Aid’s capacity for direct representation in 2022. She indicated that “often times, we are an applicant’s last resort, and some of these vulnerable individuals truly need an advocate to stand beside them in a court of law. Although the need incredibly exceeds the number of available civil aid attorneys in NH, our goal is to increase the amount of direct legal representation.”
Of the experience of being admitted to the NH Bar, Bellafant said, “I am licensed in three states, but I’ve never been sworn into a state where I knew the judges that swore me in. It resonated with me and showed me how tight-knit and close the legal community is in New Hampshire.”
Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks presided over the ceremony and praised Bellafant and her efforts with 603 Legal Aid. Based on those remarks, Associate Justice Patrick Donovan moved to admit Bellafant.
“That was an incredible feeling. It made the process more personable and memorable,” Bellafant remarked. “Having been here in NH for so many months, I was anxious to be part of the Bar, and as a member of the Access to Justice Commission, I felt this was the final piece to making my inclusion in the NH legal community official. It resonated the importance of my work and how I’m in the right place at the right time.”