Bar News - June 8, 2007
New Lawyers Column: Forget Match.com – The DOVE Project, New Lawyers Make a Perfect Couple
By: Carol L. Kunz
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive conduct used by one party to dominate and control another. It encompasses a wide variety of behaviors that may include physical assault, psychological intimidation, emotional and verbal abuse, and sexual violence. Experts estimate that in the United States alone, more
than two million women and men are sexually and/or physically assaulted each year. Not surprisingly, the
damage extends beyond the immediate parties: children raised in homes with domestic violence are abused or neglected at a rate 1,500 percent higher than the national average, according to the NH Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Victims of domestic violence defy easy stereotypes, crossing boundaries of race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, economic and social status, and sexual orientation. Traditionally, however, low-income victims are among the most vulnerable, particularly when it comes to obtaining restraining orders. Often these plaintiffs must proceed pro se, facing defendants who have either retained counsel, or, if unrepresented, are afforded by default the right to cross-examine their victims directly. Not surprisingly, many such victims choose simply to withdraw their requests for protection.
Thankfully, New Hampshire provides a unique legal resource to assist victims in their fight: The Domestic Violence Emergency, or “DOVE” Project. Conceived in 1992, DOVE provides free legal representation at final restraining order hearings for low-income victims of domestic violence. Since 1993, DOVE has assisted an estimated 1,200 families statewide, drawing on a panel of 150-175 private attorneys. Clients are referred typically through local crisis centers, which provide critical emotional support for the victims.
For attorneys, DOVE offers a profound, immediate experience rarely found in daily practice. On the whole, the legal profession provides few opportunities for instant gratification. Depending on your area of practice, a case may take months, even years, from its initiation to its final resolution. Judicial decisions are taken “under advisement,” court clerks struggle against a tsunami of paperwork, parties fall victim to over-crowded dockets, and the mandatory appeal process can render litigation almost perpetual. By contrast, a DOVE case gives attorneys a chance to obtain instant relief for an aggrieved party. Even when the final hearing is unsuccessful, having an attorney fighting for her or his rights is empowering to the client, who knows, perhaps for the first time, that help is available.
Through DOVE, new lawyers receive the additional benefit of learning trial practice through actual experience. Often, attorneys have only a limited time to prepare for such hearings, particularly given the defendant’s statutory right to a final hearing within five days. In practical terms, this legal blitzkrieg includes meeting with the client, interviewing witnesses, obtaining copies of medical and police reports, subpoenaing records, and preparing direct and cross examination of the parties, all within the course of a few days. If children are involved, the attorney must also address issues of parenting time and child support. Younger attorneys anxious to move out of the library and into the courtroom will find few opportunities as visceral and satisfying as a DOVE case.
The program likewise benefits senior attorneys and firms who support the participation of their associates. Unlike the more traditional pro bono case, which can take months to complete, the accelerated nature of a DOVE case limits the number of volunteer hours needed. The typical six-to-eight hours of non-billable time required is returned exponentially through the experience gained by the associate. In addition, DOVE offers regional training programs for CLE credits and provides extensive training materials to volunteer attorneys.
To learn more about DOVE, or to register for the next training seminar, please contact Pamela Dodge, director of the program, at the New Hampshire Bar Association 603-224-5387 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol L. Kunz is a member at Wiggin & Nourie, in Manchester, a DOVE volunteer, and a member of The New Lawyers Committee of the New Hampshire Bar Association.