Private attorneys trained to assist needy clients as "Lawyer for the Day"
WORCESTER, Mass. – Eager attorneys filled the Worcester Law Library on June 7, 2017, to learn skills necessary for pro bono work in a training sponsored by the “Lawyer for the Day” program, a collaboration involving Community Legal Aid (CLA)’s Volunteer Lawyers Service (VLS), the Massachusetts Trial Court, and the Worcester County Bar Association.
The program is intended for busy private practicing attorneys who want to help those unable to afford an attorney, but who do not have the time to work the full duration of a case. The clients the program helps would otherwise not have any legal representation.
Assistant Clerk Magistrate Michael Prosser welcomed those in attendance, while CLA Pro Bono Coordinator Anita Conte led the training. Attorneys Rhonda Bachrach, Samantha McDonald of Fletcher Tilton, and William J. Hickey presented on Lawyer for the Day’s relevance in small claims court, and the importance of legal representation for matters of debt collection.
Each of the presenters focused on a specific aspect of small claims litigation. They provided training on the debt collection industry and some common defenses to consumer debt collection suits. This allowed the lawyers who do not specialize in debt collection defense to gain practical skills on how to represent low-income debtors in small claims negotiations and trials.
Attorneys who participate in Lawyer for the Day or, more broadly, the Volunteer Lawyers Service, have access to CLA’s attorneys, who act as mentors.
Introducing the training, Judge Patrick Fox (ret.), who founded the program, emphasized the need for legal representation for all, regardless of economic status. Judge Fox mentioned the inscription on the Supreme Court building, which reads, “Equal Justice Under Law.” Unfortunately, Fox noted, this mantra sometimes seems only apply to people with power and money, not those that Lawyer for the Day serves.
Lawyer for the Day was started by Judge Fox as the Access to Justice Fellowship. It currently serves more than 250 defendants in small claims debt collection matters annually, representing the poorest of the poor in Worcester.
The overarching goal is to make pro bono work easy for attorneys; they are able to volunteer for a discrete time period while establishing clear goals with their clients and referring them to other attorneys if there is more work to be done on the case. Oftentimes such a short time of representation goes a long way and can be the difference between a fair and just trial, and a client being taken advantage of.
Lawyer for the Day also acts as a great resource for experienced attorneys, and mentor, newer attorneys. Some attorneys that work with Lawyer for the Day might otherwise not have an opportunity to actually stand before a bench, and thus the program benefits both lawyers and clients.