Bar Journal - December 1, 2003
NH's Pro Bono Program Celebrates 25 Years
By: Deborah Fauver
Helping NH Lawyers Strive For Equal Justice
When Mike Hall came to Manchester in the mid-1970s to practice law, one thing he admired about his older colleagues in the New Hampshire Bar was their established tradition of providing free legal services to the poor.
But it was a case-by-case tradition based on the even-then vanishing customs of small-town New Hampshire life; lawyers and indigent people went to the same grocery store, the same post office, the same barber, the same town meetings, and a quick private word in a semi-public setting was all that was needed to begin an attorney-client relationship.
"That tradition began to break down as law firms got bigger," Hall said. "Indigent people were less likely to know who the lawyers were, or which ones would help, and they didn't come to our offices to ask."
Low-income people were seeking out New Hampshire Legal Assistance, founded in 1971 by merging two regional legal aid programs, a program that of necessity collaborated with local attorneys and the Bar. To receive federal funding, NHLA was then required to raise 20 percent of its budget locally, either through cash donations or in-kind service contributions. Each year, the Bar Association (which had become unified in 1972 after a three-year trial period) polled the membership to establish an in-kind donation figure. For 1975, the number was $100,739 worth of legal services donated by 121 members of the Bar.1
In 1975, Hall learned of new federal funding for programs to promote private attorney involvement in legal services for the poor. At the time, Hall was an associate at the 25-lawyer Manchester firm of McLane, Graf, Green & Brown; Hall was also a member of the Bar's Citizen's Rights Committee, to which he proposed the idea of a referral system. "The Committee was always looking for new projects, and we decided to take this up," Hall said. "Several of us, as young lawyers, and new members of big firms, didn't have enough opportunity to do pro bono2 work."
A subcommittee of recent NH Bar admittees set about to explore funding possibilities and to design a program; Hall ('72),3 Charles Doleac ('72), Kurt Swenson ('70), Michael Winograd ('74), Peter Brown ('76), Paul Semple ('72), and Dale Swanson ('73). Hall also recruited the director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Robert Gross ('72).
"We were just the most recent wave of lawyers who came into the practice of law understanding that part of being a lawyer was representing people who couldn't afford to pay," Hall said, deferring any suggestion that the program was breaking new substantive ground.
"Mike Hall was very energized about the project," remembers long-time Bar leader Jack Middleton ('56). "And it was more than just a bit of window-dressing for the Bar; there was a sincere interest on the part of the Bar leadership."
Hoping to confirm a widespread interest on the part of the Bar's general membership, the Citizen's Rights Committee sent out a member survey in early 1977, randomly selecting 400 members, and basing results on 225 responses.
Drafted with help from then-Bar President John T. Pendleton ('62), and UNH-Whittemore School consultants,4 the survey sought information about Bar members' current pro bono efforts as well as opinions on the Bar's fledgling continuing education program (survey results on this point showed that Bar members wanted more CLE programs, and were willing to pay for them). The survey confirmed that there was "very substantial support for the Bar encouraging all attorneys to provide legal services for low-income persons," Hall wrote later in a 1978 NH Law Weekly report.5 Further, respondents who encouraged pro bono work in their own firms outnumbered those who discouraged the work by almost two to one.
The survey confirmed Committee members' opinions that rural lawyers were shouldering more of the pro bono burden than their urban counterparts, and that an organized referral system would be an improvement over the current informal system.
Hall and the subcommittee drafted an application for a $71,120 demonstration project grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1974 to distribute funds to local legal aid programs providing civil representation to the indigent.
LSC typically funded staff attorneys at legal aid offices, but in 1977, LSC issued six demonstration grants directed at enticing private attorneys to donate their services. Five grants went to big urban programs sponsored by voluntary local bar associations in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and by the AARP in Washington, D.C.; the sixth grant came to New Hampshire.6
A 12-member governing board was appointed by the NH Bar Association in accordance with the federal funding requirements; eight attorneys and four low-income representatives. Among the attorney members were recently retired New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Frank R. Kenison, NHLA director Robert Gross, and, as the grant application promised, "a mix of young and old attorneys from large and small firms and urban and rural areas." 7
"Getting Judge Kenison on board was key," Hall, now a partner in the Hall Stewart law firm in Manchester, recalled. "Once he was involved, we were able to recruit just about anybody we wanted." Justice Kenison represented two constituencies that through the years have given the Pro Bono program steady and continued support - senior members of the Bar and the state's judiciary.
In the summer of 1977, the Pro Bono Governing Board hired recent Northeastern Law graduate Janine Gawryl ('77) to serve as the program's first director. Janine set up the first office - around the corner from the already crowded Bar offices in Manchester, hired two paralegals and a secretary, and began drafting the program guidelines, intake forms, and what turned out to be an 800-page poverty law handbook.
Gawryl also met with the directors of the other five demonstration projects at conferences around the country. "Much of what the other programs were doing didn't relate to us, since we were mostly a rural program," said Gawryl, who practices today in Nashua in the law firm of Gawyrl & MacAllister. "It was pretty clear that the LSC staff didn't think we had much chance for success." But those negative expectations have been confounded.
"Clearly we have been one of the most successful programs, right from the start, and that is largely because of the consistent support we have had from the unified Bar," Gawryl said. That, and a panel of dedicated volunteer attorneys.
A TIME OF OBVIOUS NEED
In terms of legal needs, the timing for launching the program was excellent. In 1976, the NH Bar's Law Weekly8 was reporting on the "deteriorating" state of the New Hampshire economy. New Hampshire's economic struggles mirrored the gloomy national picture: a time of "stagflation," the first wave of OPEC-induced oil price spikes, and a continuing decline in New Hampshire's traditional manufacturing base.9 Bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures were up, as were inflation and unemployment. New Hampshire Legal Assistance was stretched to capacity, serving more than 1,400 low-income clients throughout the state, even after deciding to eliminate all domestic cases.10
NHLA's ability to serve clients in outlying rural areas was particularly weak, Hall noted in the 1977 LSC application. NHLA concentrates "its services on basic needs for housing, food, clothing and medical care for urban clients, thus leaving both geographic and subject matter gaps in services....between 10 percent and 20 percent of the 15,000 eligible persons who contracted Legal Assistance last year were turned away without the legal assistance they needed."11
Looking to fill that gap, the Citizens Rights Committee proposed that the Pro Bono program take on the task of recruiting local attorneys to represent clients in matters of wills, trusts, business organizations, bankruptcies, tort defense, immigration and naturalization, divorce, child custody, guardianships and adoptions, license revocations and tax abatement matters. NHLA and Pro Bono would work together, the application promised, establishing a two-way referral system to ensure coverage for the entire state, and for all subject areas.12 The fact that NHLA and Pro Bono have repeatedly made good on that promise is what distinguishes the programs today from many counterparts around the country.
Hall and the Committee also hoped that a strong Pro Bono program could enhance the often controversial work of NHLA. From the outset, NHLA had been the target of fiery Union Leader Publisher William Loeb, and others, for using federal funds to file suit [bring class actions] against governmental entities on behalf of poor people. "We were quite intentionally freeing up NHLA for the impact litigation they did well; we wanted to be clear that we weren't trying to compete with NHLA in that aspect," Hall said.
BAR'S SPONSORSHIP WAS CRITICAL TO EARLY SUCCESS
The initial format for Pro Bono was simple - and dictated by the mostly rural service area: Advertise a toll-free number that poor people could call, hire paralegals to talk with callers to identify those eligible under the financial guidelines who had a genuine legal problem, and hire a staff attorney to oversee the program and recruit volunteer lawyers to take cases.13
"We were lucky to get Janine as our first director," Hall said. "She had tremendous energy, and was also very practical and capable." She was also perfectly willing to call any attorney in the state with a question, or a request for help - which turned out to be a critical skill that set the tone for the program. Over the years, personal requests from Bar member to Bar member have been the most successful means of increasing private attorney participation.
"Because the Bar was our sponsor, we had immediate credibility, access to the Bar staff, and attorney phone numbers," Gawryl said. "[We have] greater private attorney involvement that any other pro bono program in the country," Gawryl said in a 1978 Law Weekly interview. The following year, the program won the ABA Award of Merit for Single Project Excellence, based in large part on the participation of 700 of the 1,200 members of the NH Bar.14 (Many of those attorneys who started with Pro Bono in the beginning have made Pro Bono work part of their careers. See page 26 for the NH Pro Bono Anniversary Honor Roll listing those attorneys who have been accepting cases for most of the life of the program.)
During the first nine months, 549 attorneys volunteered for the Pro Bono program, most agreeing to handle three cases a year, as suggested in a letter sent by retired Justice Kenison to every active member of the NH Bar.15
The reaction from the client base was also immediate. "Word got out about the program in the fall of 1977, even though we weren't taking cases until early 1978," Gawryl said. "By November we had a waiting list of clients."
During the first year, the program took about 350 client calls, resulting in about 90 referrals a month. The remaining callers were assisted with self-help advice from the Pro Bono staff, were determined to be ineligible, or didn't have a legal problem that the program could handle.
BRIDGING THE GAP IN LEGAL SERVICES
"NHLA wasn't doing family law then, so those cases were the vast majority that came through, but we also had cases involving landlord/ tenant and debt collection," Gawryl said. "And many people called with questions that we could answer without setting up a file - like can my spouse keep me from seeing my child if I haven't paid support."
The case breakdown was 65 percent domestic relations (38 percent divorce, 27 percent custody, support & visitation), 14 percent consumer problems, 5 percent guardianship and wills, and 16 percent miscellaneous - including landlord/ tenant, unemployment, social security, land ownership and other problems.16
"Part of the newness of what we did was creating an organized program that bridged the gap between legal aid and the private bar," Gawryl said.
Another key component of the program was attorney training. The poverty law handbook went to all participating attorneys, covering aspects of divorce, custody, unemployment, housing and public benefits for low-income clients, and also the unique challenges of representing the poor.
"A lot of lawyers forget that many low-income people can't read or write, and may not respond to written communications because they are trying to hide that fact," Gawryl said. Inability to maintain a phone, car, or home address also complicate attorney/ client communication.
A number of other factors combined to boost the early success of the program, not the least of which was the relative simplicity of a 1970s divorce. "A typical pro bono divorce in 1978 took six to eight hours," said Gawryl, who left Pro Bono to enter private practice in 1982, but continues to take pro bono work in her private practice. "Now that figure is at least 10 hours."
"Back then there were fewer court rules, fewer statutes, and a more informal approach at the courthouse," Gawryl said. "Now the complexity of the rules causes a minefield for lawyers who don't do this type of work day in - day out."
The women's movement of the 1970s affected Pro Bono in several ways, Gawryl said. Initially, more than 50 percent of the Pro Bono Bono clients were women, who were often closer to the poverty line than men in the context of divorce. "The movement compelled legislatures and police departments to become much more sensitized to needs of women and children, especially in divorce," Gawryl said. New substantive laws on child support, domestic violence, and the entire area of "post-divorce" added to the complexity.
At the same time, the women's movement also helped busy lawyers -male as well as female- recognize the importance of family life, a trend that would become a factor that has been gradually increasing the challenge of finding volunteer attorneys.
"In the 1970s, we thought little of putting work ahead of family, but fewer attorneys do that now, and that means less time in the office for something," Gawryl said. "Pro Bono work can be easy to cut out."
Pro Bono Becomes Established Resource
When Gawryl moved on to private practice in 1982, Sam Farrington ( '83 and currently Carroll County Superior Court Clerk) became the second Pro Bono director. By then Pro Bono was a well-established and successful program, Farrington said, though complete coverage of the state was always an issue. The need for lawyers was critical: "Back then hardly anybody did a divorce without a lawyer - if you couldn't get a lawyer, you couldn't get divorced," Farrington said.
Coos had the longest waiting list - sometimes over a year. "In an effort to cut that wait, I began going to bar dinners and talking to attorneys about the program," Farrington said. "We found that as long as we made a personal request, the attorneys were very cooperative. "Our goal at the time was for each attorney to take one case a year; and that seemed pretty manageable for a lot of attorneys," Farrington said.
"I was always impressed with our lawyers' willingness to do hard cases and to stick with them," Farrington said. "I never had clients get dumped when the going got rough."
In 1982 the NH Bar again played pioneering role in launching a program that has helped ensure the long-term success of Pro Bono. The NH Bar Foundation was the second entity in the country to implement the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts program (IOLTA),17 which pools the interest earned on client funds which are too small or are held for too short a time to be feasibly deposited in separate accounts.
IOLTA funds became available to Pro Bono in 1983, adding to the grant income from LSC and local United Way agencies.18 "Basically, we looked for money where ever we could find it," Farrington said. The ties between the Bar and its pro bono program were further strengthened in the early 1980s when the decision was made to bring both Bar and Pro Bono staff under one roof in the new Bar headquarters at 18 Centre Street in Concord.
Years of Innovation
In 1983, the NHBA Board of Governors and the Pro Bono Governing Policy Board agreed to integrate the Pro Bono Program and Bar Association staff. Farrington helped the Board search for a new director to oversee that integration. Hired as the third director was recent Franklin Pierce Law Center graduate Steven B. Scudder ('83), who would run the program for the next 10 years. Scudder remembers that the decision to merge the staffs was not an easy one.
"There were definitely two schools of thought at that time," remembers Scudder. "Some people thought that the Pro Bono Program, which was then still funded by LSC, could best continue to focus on its work by remaining an independent program. "On the other hand, many people felt that remaining independent would make it more difficult to maintain a strong relationship with the Bar Association." Tipping the balance, it turned out, were the efficiencies and synergies that consolidation provided to Pro Bono, such as access to Bar publications, CLE programs, bookkeeping support. It made things easier for clients, too. "There was some beauty in the integration from the client's perspective," Scudder said. "The one-stop-shopping aspect [pro bono, full-fee, and reduced-fee referrals at one phone number] created a sense of stability; but it made for a pretty intense intake structure, and the phones were really busy."
"There just isn't enough that can be said about the staff during those years," Scudder says now. "They did a tremendous job of maintaining their composure in the face of a real onslaught of client issues. Not many of the clients were that difficult, but their situations were."
And money was always tight. "Given the volume of work, the number of clients, the level of challenge, it never seemed that the budget was enough," Scudder said, adding that the program stretched its dollars by soliciting donations for printing costs and long distance phone service.
During Scudder's years as director, the program also sought new ways to attract volunteer attorneys, with the peer pressure of referral marathons, by recognizing committed volunteers, and by developing specialty programs that might attract attorneys who would not accept the divorce and custody cases that comprised the bulk of the Pro Bono waiting list.
Starting in 1985, annual Pro Bono awards, based on the number and complexity of cases accepted, were given to attorneys or firms in each county. A second, statewide award, recognizing an outstanding Pro Bono attorney or firm, was also created. This award was later renamed the L. Jonathan Ross ('68) Award, in recognition of the ongoing national and state leadership provided by Ross in the area of legal services for the poor.19
Scudder also helped develop the first specialty program within Pro Bono, the Domestic Violence and Emergency Project (DOVE), in 1993, to provide financially qualified victims of domestic violence with emergency legal services. "Prior to DOVE, Pro Bono hadn't made much of an effort to partner with other providers in the service community," Scudder said. "DOVE represented a change in the program in the sense that we were exploring with the service community new ways that we could work with clients."
Crisis center staff had been calling Pro Bono looking for help with restraining orders, but the quick turnaround needed wasn't compatible with the referral program. "We would tell the crisis workers to get the restraining order while we looked for an attorney to take on the divorce representation," Scudder said.
In conjunction with various crisis center directors, the DOVE format emerged (1) Pro Bono would conduct specific training programs for volunteer attorneys, whose names would be given to crisis centers; (2) the centers would confirm financial and circumstantial eligibility; (3) the centers would contact the attorneys to make the referral.
Farrington, as a court clerk, is a big fan of the DOVE program. "It is probably more important than any other I can think of," Farrington said. "These people have been completely disempowered and they need the help desperately; sometimes it's clear that the spouse's attorney is drafting stipulations and pressure is being exerted - the positions of the parties are completely out of balance."
Hundreds of attorneys have participated in DOVE training programs and, two years ago, the program was one of a half-dozen programs cited by the ABA as national role models for successful collaborations between the legal community and other agencies on domestic violence prevention.
Scudder lists DOVE as a major accomplishment of his directorship, but notes that, overall, Pro Bono had in some ways plateaued.
"During the ten years I ran the program, it was a solid, well-respected program; but there wasn't much growth in the number of attorneys volunteering, the number of cases being referred out, or opportunities for attorney's professional growth," Scudder said. "I wish we had been a little more proactive about things like the DOVE project."
For the private bar, the 1980s brought increased attorney specialization, limiting the number of attorneys who regularly accepted marital work. The pro se divorce also became far more common, resulting in fewer routine cases and a greater likelihood that accepting a Pro Bono case meant accepting a thornier problem.
Pro Bono had always provided some level of training and mentoring for its volunteer attorneys, but it became clear that providing new ways to serve was also critical. "Building any pro bono program is part training, part marketing, part analyzing the potential volunteer market," Scudder said.
In 1993, Pro Bono began the "Take One Case for Justice" campaign, hoping to encourage private attorneys to take at least Pro Bono case per year. Supreme Court Chief Justice David A. Brock lobbied for the campaign at a Bar luncheon, noting that 700 hundred attorneys were then accepting 1,000 cases per year, but that 3,000 applicants were not referred each year, due to lack of volunteer attorneys.20 Brock also noted, as "sad but true," that even though the Bar membership doubled between 1981 and 1992, "the number of Pro Bono referrals remained virtually the same."21
The court did more than jawbone the issue, though. The Superior Court had long since waived various fees for Pro Bono cases. In 1993, under the direction of then-Chief Justice Joseph P. Nadeau, the court began to grant priority scheduling to Pro Bono cases. "Why should busy lawyers working for free have to wait around?" reasoned Nadeau, now a member of the Supreme Court, speaking at a Bar luncheon at the time. Priority scheduling continues to this day.
Also during his tenure, Scudder began an intentional shift of the director's position away from providing legal advice and towards a more administrative position. "Being a lawyer was helpful in terms of prioritizing cases," Scudder said. "But it became apparent that the program really needed an administrator, and that private lawyers serving as mentors were in a better position to work with the volunteer attorneys on legal issues."
Scudder's last undertaking for the program was the development of the Quid Pro Bono Golf Tournament, begun as a new type of fundraising effort in 1994, and which today remains a major independent funding source for Pro Bono.
Today, from his national perspective as counsel to the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, Scudder says that the New Hampshire program is one of the best. "There are other good programs, but this is one of a handful that really stand out," Scudder said. "Unlike many other programs around the country, the New Hampshire Pro Bono Program was never afraid of taking on challenging, difficult and time-consuming cases. The program's volunteer lawyers understood that when joining the program and, I think, at some level have appreciated the opportunity to help clients with these difficult cases."
PIERCE LAW, ANOTHER IMPORTANT PARTNER
A key partner in the Pro Bono story has been the Franklin Pierce Law Center, established in 1973. Scan the list of annual Pro Bono Award and the attorneys who perennially appear on the monthly Pro Bono Honor Roll and you'll find it's dominated by FPLC graduates. While Pierce Law is the state's only law school, the prominence of its graduates in the ranks of Pro Bono is more than an accident of geography.
Within three years of its opening, FPLC, using federal money, established a clinic program to recover child support payments due to welfare recipients. Even though it was designed primarily to serve an educational purpose, Richard Hesse, retired FPLC professor, notes that it also served an important dimension of the Pierce Law curriculum - public service.
"We are enormously proud of FPLC's representation on the Pro Bono Award list, and we try very hard to help students understand that part of the profession," Hesse said.
Marilyn McNamara ('77), was an FPLC student in 1976, and was one of the first students to work in the clinic, and it led to a career-long association with Pro Bono and legal services. (See McNamara's article on Pro Bono service on page 22.) After graduation, she served as director of the clinic until 1978, when she went into private practice. During her years in private practice, McNamara was a Pro Bono stalwart, taking many cases and serving for many years member and chair of the Pro Bono Governing Board, McNamara two years ago returned to the public sector, taking the job of executive director of the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC). McNamara also helps to cement the ties between the legal aid community and the Bar through her service on the NHBA Board of Governors and the NH Bar Foundation Board of Directors.
Bruce Friedman ('73) was hired away from NHLA in 1978 to expand the Law Center's program. Friedman's contributions to the FPLC program are legendary and his untimely death, in China, in 1997, cut short what was already a legendary career.
Hall, as one of the early members of the Pro Bono Governing Policy Board recruited Friedman to serve on the board. Their connection was more than professional, as he and Friedman had painted houses together in Michigan when both were law students. (Hall attended the University of Michigan Law School and Friedman was a law student at Harvard.)
"Bruce was an idealistic, gifted law student," said Hall, adding that his house-painting skills were somewhat less than stellar, but that it was evident then that social justice was what had led him to law school. At the law school, he was in a position to inspire and equip many future lawyers with the vision and the skills to work with low-income clients.
"More than any human being I've ever met, Bruce was passionately dedicated to helping low-income people, especially those with children," said Ellen Musinski ('75), an FPLC professor who worked with Friedman. "Bruce worked tirelessly for people who got a bad deal," Musinski said. "He would encourage students to work passionately, and he modeled that passion - he handled hundreds of cases himself in the clinic, from routine divorces to major impact litigation."
Friedman also taught a first-year law class on civil procedure, and used his classroom to spread the gospel of low-income representation. "The students who weren't interested in public-interest law used to complain about it," Musinski said. "But it was a part of him, and many students were unquestionably, and strongly, influenced by him."
Scudder saw the carryover as FLPC graduates picked up Pro Bono cases. "It really helped that [Friedman's students] has been exposed to low income clients," Scudder said. "It helped them to be better lawyers, and to understand the dynamics of being poor, to be more patient about clients who didn't show up on time or respond to phone calls, because phone service might have been shut off, or a car might have broken down."
NHLA Director John Tobin ('81) worked with Friedman at NHLA in the mid-1970s. "Bruce was a great combination of inspiration and goad," Tobin said. "He pushed people, and we see the fruits of his labors all the time."
'Contract with America' Triggers a Funding Crisis
By the early 1990s, Pro Bono had been a national model for more than ten years. Although the program could not boast of major increases in the participation of the active attorneys or the number of cases referred, the core group of Pro Bono attorneys brought national renown to NH's Pro Bono Program by demonstrating that private attorneys, with sufficient support in an organized referral program, could handle challenging cases even as the legal needs of indigent clients became increasingly complex, and that a referral program could operate consistently statewide.
But changes on Capitol Hill led to legislation that jeopardized major funding sources for Pro Bono and other legal services programs. In the early 1990s, nearly half of the Pro Bono budget (over $100,000) came through the federal Legal Services Corporation, an entity that had become a target of certain politicians.
In the 1994 elections, Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich led a group of Republicans that swept into office, wresting control of the House, and putting Gingrich into the role of Speaker. On the Republicans' "Contract for America" agenda were restrictions on the use of federal funding for legal services for the poor. Congress mandated a series of restrictions on the recipients of federal money (including a ban on lobbying), and cut $122 million from the LSC budget. At the same time, LSC also changed the funding program that had provided support to the Pro Bono Program. Clearly, changes had to be made to keep Pro Bono and the other civil legal services programs operating.
So New Hampshire lawyers rethought the system. Marilyn McNamara, who chaired the Pro Bono Governing Policy Board for most of the 1990s, recalls a series of long, facilitated meetings. "Representatives from NHLA, Pro Bono, FPLC, the Bar Association, and a lot of private attorneys sat down and hashed out how we could meet this challenge."
A key player was 1995-96 NHBA President Bruce W. Felmly ('72). Not only did he sit in on the many meetings to hammer out a new approach, he rallied support from the Bar through frequent articles and speeches to Bar members. He emphasized that change was needed in the way in which Pro Bono and NHLA worked together, that more local fundraising would be necessary, and that more NH lawyers would have to participate in supporting the goal of providing equal access to justice for all.
The immediate need was securing funding for legal services within the structure of the new congressional limitations. The key to the plan was the creation of a new not-for-profit legal aid corporation that could meet the new federal funding requirements, serve as a state-wide referral service, provide some legal advice and representation (within the new LSC guidelines), and refer appropriate clients to Pro Bono and NHLA.
Initially dubbed NH Legal Services, Inc., the new corporation was soon renamed more descriptively - Legal Advice and Referral Center, Inc. Connie Boyles Lane (NH Bar '87), the attorney who had replaced Scudder as director of the Bar's referral programs, became LARC's first director. Lane served as LARC's executive director until 2001, and today is in private practice with the Orr & Reno law firm.
Robert Gross, then director of NHLA, describes "a confluence of things" that lead to the creation of LARC. "Pro Bono and NHLA had been working together quite closely for a number of years; each organization got thousands of phone calls a year, and we wanted to streamline that process," Gross said, who left the NHLA in 1997 to go to Washington, where he worked briefly for National Legal Aid & Defender Association before moving to the Legal Services Corporation.22
"We also knew that we [the NH legal community] had a strong commitment to sustaining the Pro Bono Program, and also the kind of work that NHLA had done," Gross said.
"It made sense for the Bar Association to keep doing what they do well - recruit and train lawyers, and transfer the intake function to LARC," Gross said. "Eight years later, I think people are happy with the way it works."
Critically for Pro Bono, the staff at LARC does the bulk of the intake work, freeing Pro Bono staff at the Bar Center to concentrate on enhancing connections to the volunteer attorneys.
"Before LARC, the staff at Pro Bono, who were mostly paralegals, handled all the intake calls; they would hear desperate stories, try to stabilize the situation, try not to give legal advice, and then call the volunteer lawyers, with those desperate voices in their heads, and perhaps have to call six or eight lawyers to make the referral," McNamara said.
"The waiting lists were really piling up," McNamara said. "Then Pro Bono handed over to LARC the intake portion; our goal is to try to stabilize the situation and stay with the client until a volunteer attorney comes on board. We feel pretty good about that relationship. Pro Bono is so focused on building relationships with lawyers, and now they are able to make referrals much faster."
LARC gets 2,500 to 4,000 phone calls in a week, and the staff speaks with 200 people in a given day. The attorneys provide some direct representation, particularly to Spanish-speaking clients, who are harder to refer out.
"Most of what we do is provide legal advice and self help advice to people waiting for a Pro Bono attorney or people who won't get a Pro Bono attorney, either because of geography or the complexity of their case," McNamara said.
LARC's annual budget of $850,000 comes mostly from the Legal Services Corporation ($654,000), with significant grants from the NH Housing Finance Authority, and IOLTA.
Of those funds, $60,000 goes to Pro Bono to meet LARC's federal mandate to spend 12.5 percent of LSC funds on private attorney involvement programs.
Other states have programs similar to LARC, but the New Hampshire program was "absolutely ahead of the curve," McNamara said, and thanks to the cooperation between the three major service providers, the New Hampshire model has been more successful. A recent ABA study of 18 legal services programs that were reconfigured in the wake of the mid-1990s federal budget cuts cites LARC as one of the three most successful.
"LSC says its striking that the three organizations (NHLA, Pro Bono & LARC) don't fight," McNamara said. "But we have always worked cooperatively. New Hampshire has an extraordinary legal services community and an extraordinary legal community. I've heard that New Hampshire lawyers are different, and it's true."
John Tobin, director of NHLA, agrees. "When I talk to colleagues in other states I always come away with the sense that our [cooperative] program is better," Tobin said. "We have more training, more volunteer lawyers, and more cases get referred out."
Though Tobin and McNamara quickly note that despite the success of the reorganization, and the many good case-by-case results, the system is overburdened. Many more attorney hours are needed.
Diversifying for the Future
The current Pro Bono director, NHBA Associate Executive Director Virginia Martin, was hired in 1996, replacing Lane, who had moved over to head LARC. Martin is the first non-lawyer to hold the post, but she is no stranger to the legal services world, having served as the director of NHLA staff training and fundraising, and having worked as an NHLA paralegal advocate prior to that.
Martin's first challenge was to restructure the program to take full advantage of LARC's intake work. Because the cases develop on a daily basis, and referrals sometimes take weeks, or in a few cases, months, it can be difficult for the two organizations to move in unison until a volunteer attorney is located.
Recognizing the need to establish clear lines of communication, representatives from NHLA, Pro Bono and LARC began holding regular joint planning meetings in 1998. The boards of NHLA and LARC later merged.
Pro Bono consciously repositioned itself to concentrate on recruitment, referral, support and training of the volunteer attorneys, including increasing diversification of the kinds of cases it accepts, Martin said.
Referral marathons continue to bring new lawyers to the program; lately the callers have been culled from particular interest groups or associations - Suffolk Law School grads have called their peers, as have alumni of other schools, the Bar's Board of Governors, New Lawyers Committee, and members of the Women's Bar Association.
In the past few years, Pro Bono, taking note of the increasing specialization of the Bar, has sought to increase attorney involvement and provide greater services by developing new areas for Pro Bono - which also means new specific attorney training sessions and supporting materials - including mortgage foreclosures, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for the indigent families of disabled children, estate planning for reservists called up to active duty, and, most recently, special education and low-income tax issues, a program funded in part by a grant from the Internal Revenue Service.
The program is also experimenting with new training methods. Last year, Martin and McNamara teamed up to develop "Divorce Camp," a multi-session workshop with a small group of new attorneys who were interested in taking a Pro Bono case but were unfamiliar with family law practice. "Divorce Camp," essentially a hybrid of a CLE and personalized mentoring, provided instruction at several crucial stages in the life of a divorce case. Martin said that she believes this kind of program, despite the time it required, is an investment in the future of the program.
Fundraising has become an increasing portion of Martin's job. "The evolution of our fundraising is similar to that of most nonprofits - we had to diversify," Martin said. "The Quid Pro Bono Golf Tournament raises $16,000 - $18,000 per year, and we are always looking for new sources of grant funding."
Pro Bono now receives funding from five United Way agencies, each with its own grant application and review process. "One of the positive things about the United Way process is being able to let the business community know about the very positive work private attorneys are able to do for low income people," Martin said.
Thousands of New Hampshire attorneys have supported Pro Bono over the last 25 years - donating professional services, badgering colleagues to sign on, sitting on committees, and, not least, contributing funds.
As many look back now, they cite several keys to the program's success: (1) the integration of legal services work with the work of the Bar Association, and the consistent recognition of the pro bono duty on the part of the Bar leadership, and the general membership through volunteering and financial support (through dues check-off donations, in particular); (2) the commitment to serve the entire state, which had lead to innovations in funding, training, recruitment and delivery of services; (3) the continued willingness to work with other legal services programs in the state; and (4) the unwavering support of the New Hampshire judiciary.
Over the years, this collective sense of commitment has formed a solid base from which the Pro Bono Program strives to reach out to the Bar as well as other professionals and community organizations in the never-ending struggle to provide equal access to justice for all New Hampshire residents.
- 1 NHLW 209 Jan. 29, 1975.
- Throughout this issue, pro bono generically refers to free civil legal work provided to meet the lawyers' professional obligation of public service; Pro Bono, capitalized, is used as a second reference for the Bar's organized Pro Bono Referral Program, or to refer to cases or legal work referred through this program.
- NH Bar Association admission dates are noted in parentheses throughout this article
- 3NHLW311 4-27-77; 4NHLW80 10-5-77
- 4NHLW28, p 177 1-11-78
- Interview with J. Gawryl
- Grant application, p 5
- Law Weekly was begun in 1974 as an independent lawyer's newsletter, devoted mostly to case summaries, but also including the often droll commentary of the young editors - George Bruno, Robert Gillmore, Charles Douglas, Charles DeGrandpre, and John Rolli (who used a mug shot from the Grafton County Jail to run with the announcement of his elevation to the Board of Editors). Letters to the editor were also common, revealing active debates over whether lawyers should be allowed to advertise, and whether female attorneys could use the title "esquire."
- "Jimmy Carter entered the White House [ January 1977] during a major crisis in American economic life, amid the disintegration of the long, sweet summer of postwar prosperity Unprecedented in it size, scope, and duration, that boom had touched nearly every American....But during the early 1970s, that bubble burst....A new term, stagflation, entered the lexicon, signifying a virtually inconceivable combination of galloping inflation with anemic growth and tenacious unemployment....At the same time, OPEC oil shocks, wild international currency fluctuations, and the first serious peacetime shortages in the nation's history made it seem that Americans no longer could control their own economic destiny." Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies, The Free Press, 2001.
- 2 NHLW 195 Jan. 14, 1976.
- application p. 3.
- application p. 3 & 4.
- application, p. 7.
- 6 NHLW 5, p. 33 8/1/79.
- 6 NHLW 40 8/1/79.
- NHLW 11-22-78.
- NHBF 2001-2002 annual report, p. 2.
- In 2003, IOLTA funds provided over $117,000 in grants to Pro Bono.
- Ross, NHBA president from 1985-86, also plays a leadership role in supporting equal access to justice nationally. Currently the NHBA Delegate to the ABA's House of Delegates, he also is a member of the ABA's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.
- 4 NHBN 9 p. 1. 10-6-93.
- Gross left the LSC earlier this year and at press time was enjoying time with his family, including a new daughter.