FALL 2018: Pro Bono Spotlight on Volunteer Lawyers Project

By Alissa Brill, Esq.

I began volunteering with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP) at a time when I was in the post-law school graduation job hunt and looking for something meaningful to do that would also help me gain knowledge and experience in the legal world. Volunteering with VLP did both of those things for me, and so much more. I transitioned into working for VLP and spent a wonderful two years as a staff attorney there.

VLP was founded in 1977 as a pilot project of the Boston Bar Association and became incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1983. In 1996, upon agreement with the other major legal aid providers in the greater Boston area, VLP became the sole recipient of federal Legal Services Corporation funding. Retired Probate & Family Court Judge Edward M. Ginsburg founded Senior Partners for Justice at VLP in 2002. The Civil Appeals Pro Bono Clinic began in 2015 in partnership with Mintz Levin, Foley Hoag and other area law firms and VLP began operating Eastern Region Legal Intake (ERLI) in October 2016, a helpline that provides intake, advice and referral services for the eastern part of the state. In 2017, VLP’s staff and 464 active volunteers helped just shy of 13,000 people.

VLP’s model differs slightly from some of the other major legal aid providers in that they have a smaller staff and rely heavily on volunteers to keep their mission alive of providing legal assistance and representation in civil matters to low-income residents of greater Boston. VLP’s areas of practice include: family, guardianship, landlord-tenant, homeownership/foreclosure prevention, bankruptcy, wills/advance directives, unemployment denials/terminations, wage and hour, fair debt collection and civil appellate law.

VLP regularly offers in-depth trainings for those considering volunteering to acclimate volunteers to the nuances of the areas of law and to working with diverse clientele. VLP operates a number of weekly and monthly court-based legal clinics where pro se litigants can receive limited assistance with drafting legal documents and legal advice and possible representation in court and/or mediation matters. The courts rely on and greatly appreciate VLP’s assistance to litigants. There is always a VLP staff person present to supervise the clinics and to screen potential clients for eligibility purposes, but the clinics rely heavily on the participation of volunteer attorneys and law students. There are also opportunities for attorneys to take on cases for full representation and VLP will provide mentorship and resources, including paying for interpreter services and utilizing VLP’s office space. In addition, attorneys can participate in ERLI’s telephone advice panels where they sign up to provide scheduled 30-minute phone consultations to clients.

Volunteering with VLP gives you a crash course to working directly with a diverse range of clients and to a particular area of law. To be able to use the skills and knowledge you have acquired through your legal education and training in order to help someone through a time of crisis in his/her life is one of the most rewarding feelings. My time with VLP will be something I will cherish always and has instilled in me a passion for helping others, no matter where my career takes me. I strongly encourage anybody interested in seeing what VLP has to offer for pro bono opportunities to check out their website at: https://www.vlpnet.org/.

Alissa Brill is a family law associate at Kajko, Weisman & Colasanti, LLP.