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Bar News - December 19, 2008

Chapter 3: Bumps in the Road and a New Legal Services Model

John C. Norton, left, was presented with the Distinguished Service to the Public award in 2006 by then-President Richard Uchida and Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. Norton is the current Pro Bono Board chair and a volunteer who has contributed to the program in many ways.

Pro Bonoís relationship with the Bar and IOLTA support proved pivotal when one of the most serious threats in the Programís history struck in the mid-1990ís. These were the years when Congress set its sights on legal services for the poor and began to cut federal funding and imposed restrictions on the use of remaining funds, creating a crisis for both Pro Bono and New Hampshire Legal Assistance. The type of special LSC funding Pro Bono had received was eliminated. NHLAís mission to offer a blanket of legal services for low-income people was jeopardized by Congressional blocks against class actions and representation of prisoners, among other constraints.

The Bar Association convened the key players, including its own leadership and that of the legal services programs and Bar Foundation to formulate a coordinated response. A series of emergency meetings in 1995 led to the decision to restructure the legal services delivery system. NHLA declined the federal funds with assurances of receiving increased IOLTA support to help defray the funding shortfall.

Pro Bonoís role was altered to include coordination of client intake with the newly created Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC), formed to accept the restricted federal monies and to provide initial screening of family, housing and other cases for Pro Bono. The Pro Bono Program would receive a sub-grant of Private Attorney Involvement funds from LARCís federal grant (albeit less money than Pr Bonoís former direct LSC grant), which continues today. The importance of IOLTA funding was underscored. Bringing experience from NHLA as an advocate, administrator and fund-raiser, Virginia Martin assumed the role of Director in 1996, following the restructuring. Her predecessor, Connie Boyles Lane, who had headed up Pro Bono for a year, moved over to lead the newly created LARC, which is now directed by Marilyn McNamara, a long-time family law attorney who had been a mainstay of the Pro Bono program as a volunteer, Pro Bono board member and chair.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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