Extending a legal safety net to our vets

Issue November 2008 By Ed W. McIntyre

As Americans observe Veteran’s Day this month, I am principally proud of the free legal services provided by the Massachusetts Bar Association for the many men and women who have honorably served our country.  Now in full swing, the MBA Pro Bono Veterans Initiative is providing a meaningful impact that is recognizing the legal needs of our veterans throughout the calendar year.

Thanks to a unique pro bono collaborative, the MBA is successfully connecting volunteer attorneys with veterans who are struggling to navigate the legal system in the areas of benefits, housing, foreclosure, re-employment upon returning from deployment, child custody, divorce, bankruptcy and medical care. Since last fall, we have made strides on this front, with the most recent measure being an Oct. 16 special Dial-A-Lawyer offering that provided legal advice solely to veterans. This served as the third in a series of call-in programs of this kind offered since last fall. As mentioned in a related article on page 10, a dozen attorneys, including my daughter, Kathryn, were again on hand offering this essential public service to almost 100 veterans.

I am proud of the role the men and women of the MBA have played in softening the legal burden that our veterans are encountering. The MBA has collaborated with the National Veterans Legal Services, a non-profit veterans service program based in Washington, D.C., to offer education and training on site at the MBA for interested attorney volunteers. On a local level, we’ve enjoyed increased support and coordination from the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services and from Shelter Legal Services, headquartered in Newton, who have been instrumental with the intake process. Together, we are privileged to offer a comprehensive free public service that is making a positive difference in the lives of our veterans across Massachusetts. 

There is still much work to be done well into the foreseeable future, but the noble hearts of volunteer lawyers encourage me. Just recently, several Boston firms, including  McCarter & English LLP and Nixon Peabody LLP, are also providing crucial pro bono legal services to veterans in communities from Massachusetts to New York. We are working to develop partnerships with these firms and others to collaborate and join our resources to provide increasing services to those men and women who have served our country so proudly. The more firms and lawyers that join this important effort, the better we all are able to provide legal assistance to an increasing number of veterans in need of these services.

Attorneys who volunteered for the last Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer did so because they feel indebted to those who have or are serving the country. Maureen Counihan said she is grateful for all the men and women who enlisted to serve. Sharon V. Jones, meanwhile, has a personal link to veterans. Her grandfather, three uncles, cousin and sister were all in the service. “I owe something to help out vets,” Jones said. And Aaron E. Connor offered his services as a lawyer in part because his grandfather was a vet. “This seems like a good thing to do,” Connor said.

I am equally proud of the commitment displayed by program sponsor Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the MBA. With the MBF’s financial support, we have been able to strengthen the program, build capacity for the long haul and expand its reach.

To see the program we started only a year ago flourish like this has been gratifying for all of us involved. It has been rewarding to see the camaraderie of the volunteer attorneys, many being veterans themselves.

As a leading voice for the legal community in Massachusetts, we have a special role and obligation to serve our community. Not only has our Pro Bono Veterans Initiative improved the well-being of a multitude of the half-million vets residing in our state, but it has provided a meaningful opportunity for MBA members who are more than willing to assist those who have served our country so admirably. Lawyers frequently ask me about what to do to improve the image of lawyers:  Now is the time; now is the opportunity . . . to serve those who have risk life to serve us. What would such service say about our character, about our compassion, about our profession?

Thank you to the many attorneys who have offered their time and talent to be a part of this invaluable public service.

[L]et us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
 — Abraham Lincoln, second inaugural address, March 4, 1865