Granite State Law Firms Stepping Up to Meet Legal Services Demand
By Sarah Mattson Dustin
August 18, 2020
The need for civil legal aid is surging. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have pushed more New Hampshire families into financial peril, particularly as supplemental unemployment insurance benefits come to an end, eviction moratoriums expire, and many parents struggle to manage childcare with school buildings closed. New Hampshire’s civil legal aid providers have already seen calls for help with unemployment insurance cases skyrocket, and we expect eviction cases to spike this fall. The demand for civil legal aid exceeds the available resources in the best of times. In my view here at New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA), the current crisis is the most significant challenge we’ve faced since the Great Recession.
But there’s good news: reinforcements are on the way. With a CARES Act grant from the Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund, NHLA has partnered with three of New Hampshire’s largest law firms to launch the Crisis Response Fellowship Attorneys Program. And, we’ve hired two new paralegals who, like the Fellowship attorneys, will expand our COVID-19 response.
The innovative Fellowship program will bring attorneys from McLane Middleton, Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, and Rath, Young and Pignatelli to work at NHLA on housing and unemployment insurance cases, helping low-income families avoid homelessness and remain financially stable. With CARES Act funding available only until the end of the year, the Fellowship Attorneys Program is powering up NHLA’s resources at a crucial time. I am deeply grateful to our law firm partners who stepped up immediately when we asked for their help. Their commitment is emblematic of the New Hampshire bar’s enduring commitment to civil legal aid, including a remarkable tradition of attorney volunteerism through the Pro Bono Referral Program. Here’s what they have to say about the program:
- “Even in the best of times, the demand for legal aid far outpaces the capacity of these programs, and that hurts all of us – in the legal community and in New Hampshire as a whole,” said Cathy Schmidt, CEO and executive director of McLane Middleton. “I am glad we are able to help provide a voice for people facing the devastating consequences of this economic crisis.” McLane Middleton attorney Robert J. Kendall, III will be working on housing cases at NHLA.
- “NHLA’s provision of critical legal services to the low-income members of our state is vitally important, particularly now. We are proud to be a part of this innovative collaboration, as one concrete way that we can contribute to that important work,” said Courtney Herz, a Sheehan Phinney shareholder who also serves on the Campaign for Legal Services Leadership Council. “Not only will our colleague learn from the creative, resourceful, diligent, and smart legal aid advocates, but she will also have the opportunity to make a real difference for so many of our fellow Granite State citizens.” Sheehan Phinney attorney Abbygale Martinen will be working on unemployment insurance cases at NHLA.
- “We are a country built on the idea of equality for all before the law. Members of the Bar have a unique responsibility to ensure our society lives up to that ideal,” said Christopher J. Sullivan, president of Rath, Young and Pignatelli. “I’m so glad we are able to be part of this work when it is needed most.” Rath, Young and Pignatelli attorney Craig McMahon will be working on housing cases at NHLA.
Our two new paralegals are fulltime advocates who will remain a part of our team beyond the end of the year. Abdoul Fofana of Manchester has joined NHLA’s Concord office, where he will focus on public benefits advocacy. Lauren Orsini of Glen has joined NHLA’s Berlin office, where she will focus on housing and municipal welfare cases. I am thrilled to have Abdoul and Lauren on board.
NHLA continues to work closely with our partners at the Legal Advice & Referral Center and the Pro Bono Referral Program. The three agencies have planned together for the coming surge in need. We are emphasizing coordinated screening, intake, and referral so we get clients connected with legal help as efficiently as possible, as well as training attorneys in private practice who continue to offer volunteer services during these extraordinary times. If you’re reading this, you probably have a friend, family member, or neighbor who will need civil legal aid in the months ahead. Please send them our way – we are here, and we are ready. They can apply for help 24 hours a day online at nhlegalaid.org or call 1-800-639-5290 weekdays, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Sarah Mattson Dustin is the Executive Director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.