Serving Our Veterans in the Law programs coming in October

Issue Sept/Oct 2009 By Bill Archambeault

Attorneys, law students and paralegals looking for ways to volunteer their time can consult the updated Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, a comprehensive, statewide listing of more than 130 agencies in need of pro bono assistance. The guide has been updated and is available online at

"People change, programs change, funding changes, so we need to get that information out there, particularly in this economic climate," said Elizabeth A. O'Neil, director of Public and Community Services at the Massachusetts Bar Association.

"It's the quickest and easiest way for members to find programs that best match their desire to help people," she said. "For attorneys who are not currently doing pro bono work, it's a great way for them to find out what's available in their area, practice-wise and geographically."

The guide lists information about what each organization does, what kind of legal help they need and where they are located, and members can search by keyword, category and/or county for volunteer opportunities ranging from actual client representation to the training of staff.

The MBA and the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the MBA's philanthropic partner, support Massachusetts attorneys in their efforts to provide pro bono services to those of limited means.

Serving Our Veterans in the Law

One of the MBA's most prominent initiatives is helping veterans struggling with securing their benefits or having other legal problems. Started in the fall of 2007, the program now offers three ways for attorneys to help veterans with legal problems.

The first option is the Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer Program, which is held in October and April. Volunteers answer phone calls at the MBA's Boston office from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., giving the callers basic legal advice on how to proceed. The next program will be Oct. 15.

"They answer basic legal questions that the veteran is experiencing, from foreclosure to bankruptcy, to unemployment to housing to veterans benefits, so we're always looking for attorneys with a diverse legal background," O'Neil said.

The second option is the Visiting Lawyers Program, which is modeled on lawyer-for-a-day programs, when volunteer attorneys meet face-to-face with veterans for up to 20 minutes to provide legal information.

"It's like Dial-A-Lawyer, but in person," O'Neil said. "It's not legal representation, but rather, offering legal advice for their particular issue."

The next Visiting Lawyers Program will be held Oct. 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Northeast Outreach Center at 65 Cedar St. in Haverhill. Veterans must register for an appointment in advance. This is the newest portion of the Serving Our Veterans in the Law program. The first Visiting Lawyers Program for veterans was held June 2 in Northbridge.

The MBA has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services on both the Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer and Visiting Lawyer Programs.  

The final option, which involves the most serious commitment, is the Veterans Pro Bono Initiative, in which volunteer attorneys represent veterans appealing a benefits decision of the Veterans Administration. The MBA has trained upwards of 80 attorney volunteers to handle individual cases.

Since the inception of this program, the MBA has collaborated with Shelter Legal Ser-vices, a Newton-based nonprofit organization that offers free legal advice and representation to homeless and low-income individuals in the Boston area. Shelter Legal Services runs the veterans intake hotline, which is open on Mondays from 3 to 5 p.m. so veterans call to apply for free representation by volunteers.

"This is free legal representation for veterans as he or she goes through the process," O'Neil said.

 This program is offered as a public service of the MBA with the financial support of the MBF. Volunteer support is needed to keep all three facets of the program running strong, O'Neil said. Attorneys who are interested in volunteering for any portion of the program can call (617) 338-0695.

"Our members have been extremely supportive of all three (veterans) programs. Many of our members are veterans themselves. Whether they are or not, they feel the need to give back" by volunteering, she said. "It's an exciting program because there's such a need out there."