Bar News - October 18, 2013
Presidentís Perspective: Celebrating Pro Bono: My First Pro Bono Case
By: Jaye Rancourt
When I began my legal career, I was a public defender with the New Hampshire Public Defender Program. Back then, I did not understand that there were opportunities to be actively involved with the New Hampshire Bar Associationís Pro Bono Referral Program, which helps match lawyers with eligible low-income clients needed help on civil legal matters. I could have participated in Pro Bono phone-a-thons to place cases. I could have volunteered for Lawline.
Instead, I took my first Pro Bono case after I joined Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino. The referral first came through a friend and colleague at the public defenderís office. My friend represented a woman who was accused of assaulting her husband. The client didnít have a place to live; she was couch-hopping at the time. Because she was effectively homeless, she was unable to visit with her children. She was working part-time, making very little money, and receiving no support from her estranged husband. She had been a stay-at-home mother for years and had raised several children. I told my friend Iíd take the case if the woman qualified financially for free legal help through the Pro Bono program.
The client qualified, and the case then came to me through the NHBA Pro Bono Program. I was able to assist this woman in receiving some alimony and a few items of personal property. Most importantly, the court agreed to relieve her of significant debt obligations. She was able to rent a small apartment and ultimately reestablished contact with her children. The case was difficult and took a long time, but after two attempts at mediation, it was resolved.
Over the years, I have tried to consistently maintain at least one active Pro Bono case, as do many of my colleagues. I am often contacted by my friends at the public defenderís office, and I refer their clients through the Pro Bono program. Keep in mind that, for funding purposes, it is important that, when possible, cases be referred through the Pro Bono intake procedure.
As you all know by now, October is Pro Bono month in New Hampshire. It is a time to celebrate the hundreds of volunteer attorneys in the Bar Association who volunteer countless hours each year. It is also a time to reflect on what we each can do to help improve access to justice for the disadvantaged residents of our state.
If we each met our aspirational goal of 30 hours of pro bono public legal service per year, we could make a huge impact. Please take a moment this month to plan out how you will meet, if not exceed, that goal this year. Only 30 hours of your time can make a huge difference in the life of another person.
Thank you to those that give of themselves to assist the low-income people of New Hampshire, and thanks in advance to those who are willing to join the fight.
Jaye Rancourt is the 2013-14 president of the NH Bar Association and practicees with the law firm of Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino in Manchester.