The New Hampshire Pro Bono Referral Program honored eight exceptional volunteers at the Bar Association’s 2019 Midyear Meeting on February 15 in Manchester. These rising stars and distinguished pro bono attorneys all go above and beyond to support low-income people with free legal services in family law, bankruptcy, consumer, criminal record annulment, housing, and income tax disputes, as well as veteran and senior citizen matters.

Dennis Kurdek, Kimberly Shaughnessy, Alexandra Cote, Michael Strauss, Sara Crisp, Jane Schirch, Robert Hunt. Not pictured: Colin Jean.

Rising Stars

Alexandra (Lexi) Cote,

McLane Middleton, Manchester

Lexi Cote quickly showed her stripes as a Pro Bono volunteer when she jumped into a complicated housing foreclosure case on the eve of trial, only a few months after joining McLane Middleton. She immediately established a positive rapport with the Pro Bono client, an elderly, disabled woman in great distress. The case involved a municipal foreclosure, a large, historical medical judgment, bankruptcy law and a host of complicated legal and personal issues. Lexi made herself an expert in all of them, explaining options to the client, maneuvering the case through mediation with one party, negotiating with the judgment creditor, and salvaging some positive outcomes from a difficult situation. In just a short period after entering the Pro Bono case, Lexi devoted well over 100 hours of time to the matter, employing a high degree of skill and professionalism, tenacity, and empathy for the client, all qualities of a “Rising Star.”

Sara B. Crisp, Formerly of

Morneau Law, Nashua

Sara Crisp came to Pro Bono’s notice even before she was a member of the New Hampshire Bar. As a UNH Law student working at Morneau Law, she served as co-counsel on several Pro Bono family and DOVE cases under Rule 36. Since being admitted to the Bar in 2016, Sara has taken eight Pro Bono cases and has continued the “giving-back” cycle by involving a UNH Law student as co-counsel on some of her Pro Bono cases, under Rule 36. It is that sort of mentorship that generates a culture of service in the legal profession. Sara’s passion for representing extremely vulnerable clients has been an enormous asset to the Pro Bono Program. She has accepted multiple challenging family cases, including representing clients with limited English proficiency, and always represents her clients with professionalism and respect.

 

Kimberly A. Shaughnessy,

Shaughnessy Raiche, Bedford

A participant in DOVE Project training as a Daniel Webster Scholar at UNH Law, Kim wasted no time taking her first DOVE case as a practicing attorney. Since her admission to the New Hampshire Bar in 2015, she has been a champion for the DOVE Project. In three short years, Kim has represented eight victims of domestic violence in protective order cases and recently expanded her services to include divorce and parenting cases. As one of Kim’s DOVE clients wrote in a survey, “She was very professional and kind. She explained the confusing legal process to me in terms that I could understand. I am thankful that she was there to represent me because I don’t know how I could have done it on my own.” Her understanding of the unique needs of vulnerable clients makes her both a compassionate and extremely effective advocate. There is no doubt that her infectious enthusiasm for Pro Bono service encourages others to do the same.

 

Michael E. Strauss,

Nixon Peabody, Manchester

While an associate at McLane Middleton, “Rising Star” Michael Strauss’s resolute volunteer efforts led to his Pro Bono clients receiving just results in matters impacting their daily lives. In one case, Mike obtained the return of funds his Pro Bono client paid for a used car that turned out was not road-worthy without major repairs, while also securing reimbursement of his client’s costs. Mike’s efforts allowed his client to move on to purchase another vehicle, a basic necessity in rural New Hampshire. In another matter, Mike was able to preserve a single mom’s shelter, proving the landlord’s eviction action was retaliatory. The case did not end there, however; Mike appealed the lower court’s decision, asserting the law requires assessment of penalties against the landlord for unlawful conduct. No matter the case, Mike approaches it with a strong sense of righting unfair and inappropriate actions against his clients. Although Mike has left McLane, he is continuing his commitment to this case and Pro Bono work.

 

Distinguished Pro Bono Service

Robert Hunt, Davis|Hunt Law,  Franklin

Rob Hunt signed on as a Pro Bono volunteer 12 years ago and quickly became a champion for victims and survivors of domestic violence in court and within his community. He invests most of his Pro Bono service as a DOVE volunteer, representing victims at final restraining order hearings but often goes the extra mile to address further legal issues of his clients. A crisis center advocate reflected that, “He treats all victims and survivors with a level of compassion and respect that makes them feel validated and supported.” Personally responsive to Pro Bono requests, Rob is also a true ambassador for the Pro Bono Program by encouraging new lawyers to embrace “pro bono” service as an important aspect of their profession. Rob actively volunteers in his community and serves on the board of New Beginnings Crisis Service. Truth be told, the Pro Bono staff could never quantify the time Rob has given nor the positive impact he has engendered in his community and the legal profession.

Colin M. Jean, Nashua

A sole practitioner in Nashua, Colin Jean has been providing free legal assistance to low-income individuals and families through the Pro Bono Referral Program since 2006. The list of Pro Bono clients he has helped during the ensuing 12 years is a long one. He has focused his service on helping people submerged in debt and those facing loss of their shelter through eviction. More than once, Colin has jumped in with little notice to represent tenants otherwise on their own, telling Pro Bono staff, “I have to be in court that morning anyway.” He shows a deep generosity of spirit as he consistently helps the vulnerable and disadvantaged in his community with their basic legal needs. Not only are his clients grateful, but so is the Pro Bono staff!

 

Dennis Kurdek, Merrimack

For Dennis Kurdek, law is his second career. Attending law school in 2010, he transitioned from a 27-year career in federal law enforcement to founding and managing his own law practice. His goal — to make a difference. On being admitted to the New Hampshire Bar in 2015, Dennis quickly put his vision to practice. Since 2015, he has accepted 17 cases through the Pro Bono Program and doesn’t shy away from having multiple Pro Bono cases on his plate at any given time. Aside from the sheer number, his cases are from numerous practice areas, making him a versatile volunteer. Whether assisting a young, indigent mother in getting a prior criminal conviction annulled or helping a survivor of domestic violence secure protection from her abuser, Dennis represents all his Pro Bono clients with the utmost care and compassion.

 

Jane M. Schirch, Shanelaris & Schirch, Nashua

Since forming the partnership of Shanelaris & Schirch in 2000, Jane Schirch has been a steadfast volunteer with the Pro Bono Referral Program, concentrating in the area of family law. She has made a difference for dozens of families in crisis, applying her knowledge, skills and empathy to frequently challenging situations, always keeping her eye on the best interests of the children involved. Jane’s participation in Pro Bono extends beyond her individual casework to include clinics centered on the legal needs of veterans. Every year she takes to the fairway to join colleagues in supporting Pro Bono at the annual golf tournament. Jane is a mainstay of the Pro Bono Program, generously extending her services to assist low-income people in her community, giving them the opportunity to secure a more stable and hopeful future.