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Bar News - September 16, 2011

Opinion: NHLA Closes Two Offices; Cuts Back, Alters Services

Concerned about the
Legal Services Gap?

There are FOUR things lawyers can do:

1. Accept Pro Bono cases. Contact or or visit the Bar’s Public Services Opportunities page in the For Members area.

2. Contribute to the Campaign for Legal Services, which supports NHLA, LARC and the NH Bar Pro Bono Referral Program. To find out more, or to donate online.

3. Use a Leadership Bank for your IOLTA account. These banks offer the highest interest rates on lawyers’ trust accounts, which provides the bulk of revenue for the NH Bar Foundation’s IOLTA grants program, a major funding source for both NHLA and the Pro Bono Referral Program.

4. Talk to your legislators about the importance of adequate funding for legal services.

NH Legal Assistance has been taking "painful steps" to address the loss of $1 million in state funding as well as cutbacks in IOLTA funding due to diminishing IOLTA revenues.

The major operational changes including closing offices in Littleton and Nashua (see accompanying letter); and laying off 14 staff members, including three lawyers.

NHLA also is altering its intake practices, including discontinuing a Senior Advice Line service, and more closely integrating its intake processes with the Legal Advice and Referral Center.

John Tobin, NHLA’s executive director, said that the civil legal services organization is not eliminating any category of legal assistance that it will address, but having to say "no" more often to potential clients.

The Pro Bono Program may be able to assist some of the clients NHLA has to turn away, according to Pro Bono’s Director Virginia Martin. "When it comes to basic estate planning and bankruptcy, Pro Bono can tap volunteer attorneys to step up as many already do," Martin commented, "but we have very few attorneys conversant with public benefits law, for example."

Another casualty is the Senior Advice Line maintained by the Senior Citizens Law Project, which also provides representation to senior citizens (aged 60 and over) with civil legal problems.

Due to the staffing cutbacks, the telephone advice component is being discontinued. "While we have considered the advice line to be a tremendous success, we felt it was more important to maintain our ability to provided extended representation to seniors with urgent legal problems," wrote Cheryl Driscoll, Senior Law Project director, in a recent memo to elder services providers.

The newly named Senior Law Project (SLP) will retain the toll-free number: 1-888-353-9944 used by the advice line, but it will be for screening and intake only; brief advice will no longer be provided. The telephone line will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays.

The types of cases addressed by SLP include:
  • consumer debt collection problems, financial exploitation;
  • housing and property tax issues, including evictions, housing discrimination, foreclosure, mobile home park issues, and property tax relief;
  • nursing home residents’ rights, and transfer/discharge disputes;
  • public benefit cases, including denials or adjustments of benefit programs including: social security, state disability benefits, Medicaid, town/city welfare, and food stamps.
The Senior Law Project receives funding from the NH Division of Elderly and Adult Services, as well as support from the general NHLA grants from the NH Bar Foundation and the United Way.

RELATED: A Sad Goodbye from NH Legal Assistance Staff

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