Bar News - November 18, 2011
Board of Governors: Board Briefed on Role of Pro Bono and Bar Association
As part of an ongoing orientation effort for the Board of Governors, Ginny Martin, Associate Executive Director for Legal Services of the NH Bar Association, discussed the functions and scope of the Pro Bono Referral Program, and its importance to the Bar membership at the board’s meeting on Oct. 13.
The NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program has a quiet but significant impact on the delivery of legal services in NH each year due to widespread attorney involvement. In the past fiscal year, Martin said, members of the NH Bar contributed 18,000 hours of direct representation hours. (Additional hours include mentoring, referral marathon work, and case review are not included in this figure.) Martin estimated that these contributions amount to more than $3 million in contributed legal services in one year.
The Pro Bono program is organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (the NHBA is a 501(c)(6) entity) with a separate governing board. Pro Bono receives funding from the IOLTA program, many United Ways, a private attorney involvement subgrant from the Legal Services Corporation, provided through the Legal Advice & Referral Center, the Campaign for Legal Services, its own fundraising, and, during the past decade, only a small amount of direct support from the Bar Association. (Funding of Pro Bono will be discussed more in depth in an upcoming Bar News article.)
Pro Bono follows federal income guidelines and, with the guidance of its governing board, sets policies regarding the clients and types of cases it accepts. Martin made a key distinction between Pro Bono and the staff-model legal services agencies in NH (NH Legal Assistance, Legal Advice & Referral Center and Disabilities Rights Center). She said that the Pro Bono program’s mission focuses on supporting members to help them serve pro bono clients. The Pro Bono program, she added, is a service of the Bar Association that benefits the public and the members. The services include low-cost CLE training for members who accept cases, mentoring, and case screening. Pro Bono staff work with some clients before they meet with a pro bono attorney, clarifying client expectations and guiding them in collecting necessary paperwork and information. Pro Bono staff also connect attorneys with expert resources, such as translation, court reporting, or valuation services. This staff work leverages the time that the attorney provides to the client to make it as productive as possible.
"With the services we provide, we communicate the message to members: you are not alone if you take a case," Martin said. And by fostering volunteering by attorneys, Pro Bono helps to convey the message of what the legal profession contributes to the public.
In its case-screening and selection policies, Pro Bono attempts to match the potential cases, whether referred directly to the Bar or referred through other legal services entities, with the capacity of the volunteers. "Our mission is to build and nurture the capacity of NH Bar Association members to provide legal services to the poor and disadvantaged," Martin said. That capacity-building and nurturing function means that Pro Bono considers the long-range implications of its case-acceptance policies. For example, some needy clients will be turned away because the case is too complicated for the attorneys that are available. Accepting such cases can jeopardize the future volunteer capacity of the Bar members by overtaxing the time that economically-strapped Bar members can provide, or by assigning a high-conflict or complex case that an attorney lacks the experience to handle.
In making referrals, Martin said, Pro Bono strives to preserve the trust of the members by being honest in estimates of how complex and time-consuming a case will be. "We don’t ‘spin’ a case," Martin said.
In recent years, Martin said, Pro Bono has expanded the variety of opportunities to participate in Pro Bono – different case types, new delivery modes, and options other than direct representation such as mentoring or marathons. Pro Bono attorneys have cases in all levels of the courts, from the state circuit courts, all the way up to the NH Supreme Court. Typically, five to six appeals of Pro Bono cases are heard by the Supreme Court each year.
Larry Vogelman, NHBA Vice President, said he appreciated the distinction Martin made between the primary mission of Pro Bono as a service to members rather than as a legal services agency whose primary loyalty is to clients, recognizing the ultimate benefit to clients of this Association service.
Marilyn Billings McNamara, immediate NHBA Past President, is very well-known in the legal services community, having served as executive director of the Legal Advice & Referral Center, and as longtime Pro Bono board member and chair. She said she has always been impressed by the number of NH lawyers who are willing to get involved in complicated cases, and she said that the high level of support volunteers receive from Pro bono makes that possible. "We mentor our volunteers, and their extraordinary efforts are recongized on a national level," she said.
"We are responsible for the clients’ expe
rience and for the attorneys’ experience," said Jeannine McCoy, NHBA executive director. "If we burn out the lawyers with bad experiences, we eliminate the future capacity of our Bar members to volunteer."
[In upcoming months, Bar News will focus on other aspects of the Pro Bono program as it struggles to continue its mission in a time of high demands and strained resources.]
In other actions at the Board meeting, Christopher Keating, executive director of the NH Public Defender, introduced a new process that the NHPD has developed with the courts to streamline the appointment of indigent defense counsel in cases where the NHPD has conflicts. (See page 12 for the article.)
NHBA President Jennifer Parent provided updates on the Civics in Action speaking program, and reported on her attendance at a Grafton County Bar Association meeting. She noted that the local bar meeting drew nine judges and a court clerk, indicating that communications and relations between bench and bar in the Upper Valley appears strong.
Also, Parent announced that she was naming McNamara to the New England Bar Association board of directors, replacing Russell Hilliard. Hilliard has been elected by NEBA as Vice President and will serve as president of the organization in 2012- 2013. New Hampshire will host the NEBA meeting in fall of 2013.
The NHBA Board also voted on reappointments of NH Bar members to the Pro Bono Governing Board. Matthew Lapointe, of Sheehan Phinney; and Donald Hebert, of Hebert & Dolder in Concord, both appeared at the meeting. Also approved for reappointment were Carol Kunz, who is in private practice in Goffstown; and Pamela A. Peterson, of the Devine Millimet law firm.