In observance of the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Celebration, taking place, this year, this week of October 23rd through the 29th, we will be doing our small part to support the movement by publishing pro bono-related posts to the LOMAP Blog. For this post, we are indebted to its author, Chris Saccardi, who focuses on landlord-tenant law in Boston and surrounding communities. Prior to starting his own practice, Chris was a litigation associate at Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge, LLP. Chris is an active volunteer with the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project’s housing court programs. This year, he was awarded the VLP’s 2011 Denis Maguire Pro Bono Award for exceptional service in accepting and handling pro bono cases. Below, Chris writes about his work with the VLP, and the value he gleans from pro bono contribution.
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Three hundred dollars. Many attorneys bill that, or more, for their hourly services. For a recent pro bono client of mine, whom I will call Anne, three hundred dollars was her total monthly income. Because of some unexpected medical expenses that were not covered by her health insurance, Anne, when I met her in Boston Housing Court, had fallen behind in her rent and was facing eviction. She and countless other poor Boston residents often show up in court as pro se litigants against professional landlords represented by experienced attorneys. Sometimes these pro se litigants do not understand why they are in court; occasionally they cannot even read the complaint brought against them. They are confused by seemingly arcane legal procedure and they are nervous about appearing in front of a judge. For the past two years, I have joined many other local attorneys who provide assistance to clients such as Anne through the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. My colleagues and I seek to even the playing field between those litigants who can hire an attorney and those, like Anne, whose entire monthly income could pay for no more than a handful of hours of legal assistance, if that.
There are many reasons why attorneys take on pro bono clients: because of an ethical obligation to do so; to gain experience; to help people in need; because it is rewarding. When I take on a new pro bono client, it’s often because they have nowhere else to go–but for VLP’s volunteer attorneys, many more litigants would face the potential loss of their home alone and with a limited ability to represent themselves. Sometimes my assistance makes all the difference; many other times we lose anyway, facing long odds and a resource gap that is just too wide to overcome with small monthly payments to a landlord whose patience has been, understandably, stretched thin. In either case, however, I often find that I have a very grateful client: one who faced a difficult and confusing situation and appreciated that there was someone there to explain it to her and to help her make the best of it, someone who treated her with a respect that she seldom encounters in her daily life, and someone who listened to her and advocated for her interests. Win or lose, the ability to grant that small measure of comfort is why I keep going back.