MBA honors 'very best in legal services’

Issue April 2010

by Kelsey Sadoff

Coming together to "celebrate the very best in legal services," the Massachusetts Bar Association honored five lawyers and one law firm at the Annual Access to Justice Awards Luncheon on March 12, as part of the MBA's Annual Conference 2010 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.

Legal Services Award

Two attorneys were presented the Legal Services Award, which is given to a public or nonprofit agency attorney who has contributed to the provision of low-income legal services beyond his or her required job responsibilities: Thomas E. Kosman of South Coastal Legal Services Inc. in Hyannis and Patti A. Prunhuber of Legal Assistance Corp. of Central Massachusetts in Worcester.

Kosman, an elder law attorney on the Cape and the Islands since 1982, was honored for serving senior citizens with "knowledge, vigor and above all, dedication." As the practice group leader for Elder Law Advocates and the lead attorney under the Medicare Advocacy Project, Kosman was described as an attorney who "doesn't wait in his office [for the phone calls], but maintains a vigorous outreach schedule."

Kosman, who was "humbled and greatly honored," accepted the award on behalf of himself and his colleagues.

Prunhuber, described by James Breslauer as an attorney who will do "something innovative and effective" when given a chance, has dedicated her career to advocating for low-income families and individuals. Taught by her mother to "challenge authority at every step," Prunhuber reminded attendees that everyone "has a stake [in the] reality of providing representation" to those who need it most.

"I have been fortunate to be a part of the legal services community for 25 years," said Prunhuber, who thanked her colleagues and clients for "teaching me and continuing to teach me."

Pro Bono Award for Law Firms

Fish & Richardson PC was honored with the Pro Bono Award for Law Firms, which is presented to a firm whose meaningful pro bono activities are particularly noteworthy given the firm's size.

Traditionally dedicated to intellectual property, litigation and technology law, Fish & Richardson has helped Neighborhood Legal Services with its goal of providing attorneys for the Northeast Housing Court Lawyer for a Day Program since 2005.

"Pro bono service is uniquely rewarding in a way that is different from our daily jobs," said Thomas A. Brown, who accepted the award on behalf of Fish & Richardson. Brown noted the volunteer attorneys often find that when volunteering with the Northeast Housing Court Lawyer for a Day Program, they "feel we have made a difference in the world" and "remember why we went to law school."

"We owe the greatest gratitude to our clients, for giving us this wonderful opportunity to serve them," said Brown. Since the Northeast Housing Court Lawyer for a Day Program's inception, Fish & Richardson has dedicated more than 2,300 hours to the program. In 2009 alone, Fish & Richardson attorneys dedicated 650 hours to the Lynn Housing Court.

Pro Bono Publico Award

Michael P. Angelini, chairman of Bowditch & Dewey LLP in Worcester, was presented the Pro Bono Publico Award, which is given to an individual who has been instrumental in developing, implementing and supporting pro bono programs for the MBA, a local bar association, law firm or agency.

"At a time with unprecedented legal need - and when others said it couldn't be done - Mike agreed to take on the first private bar fundraising campaign," said Paige Firment, president of LACCM's board of directors. She noted that Angelini spent hours urging lawyers and law firms to participate in the program.

The former president of both the Greater Worcester Community Foundation Inc. and United Way of Central Massachusetts, and the current chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, Angelini expressed his "pride for being a member of a profession that makes a real difference in the world."

"Thankfully, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are thousands of attorneys [who] practice access to justice everyday," he said.

Defender Award

Beth L. Eisenberg, whose work "in affording access to justice … has made a tremendous difference," was the recipient of the Defender Award, which is given to a public or nonprofit agency attorney who provides or contributes to the provision of criminal legal services to low-income clients.

The director of special litigation for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Somerville, Eisenberg has dedicated her career to helping those in need.

"Compassion is our source of nonviolent social change," said Eisenberg, who thanked her clients - "all of whom have been my teachers" - when accepting her award.

Prosecutor Award

Michael C. Connolly, chief of the district courts at the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office, received the Prosecutor Award, which is bestowed upon a state or federal prosecutor who has distinguished him or herself in public service.

Crediting Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating with his vision for creating a work environment where "prosecution is only part of the job we perform in the office," Connolly has been instrumental in establishing an avenue for access to justice for mentally ill citizens in Quincy and Norfolk County.

Going "beyond his daily initiatives," Connolly, the prosecutor representative to the Norfolk Mental Health/Criminal Justice Partnership, works to secure grants to fund the program.

Richard McMahon, who presented Connolly with the Prosecutor Award described him as an "outstanding attorney" who is "willing to make tough decisions." Of his participation in the Norfolk Mental Health/Criminal Justice Partnership, Connolly believes that "partnerships and collaborative efforts can produce big and great things."