“In many areas, but particularly the creation of credit and collection debt, consumers get steamrolled, especially the poor. I believe they deserve a good lawyer.”
Attorney Thomas Beauvais, a volunteer at the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project Fair Debt Collection Clinic, holds this straightforward philosophy on the importance of engaging in pro bono work and has actively sought to make a difference with it for the past several years, ever since he joined the Clinic in March 2011. Through the Clinic, he staffs the Lawyer for the Day Program at the Boston Municipal Court Central Division every Wednesday, providing Limited Assistance Representation services related to debt collection defense to pro se litigants for the court’s civil session.
Sometimes the nature of the cases requires going beyond the call of duty, and Beauvais helps willingly. He has taken on the cases that call for full representation because they have complicated legal issues, offer an opportunity to put forward a novel argument, or require more extensive strategic planning. He has also provided support for bankruptcy cases that require litigation through adversary proceedings or complex motion practice.
To hear him tell it, however, the commitment is entirely worth it for the benefit he has been able to bring to the lives of those who otherwise might have ended up lost in the intricacies of the legal system. He shared the story of one of his earliest cases through the VLP and, as it turns out, his first trial as a lawyer:
“One of the most memorable moments so far was about 3 weeks after I started volunteering. I got an email that a client had come to VLP and had a trial in a week. As anyone who’s done a trial will attest, one week isn’t much time to prepare. Nevertheless, I took the case. Thankfully the case was simple enough that we were able to prepare the client’s argument in time. It was a debt defense case, and at trial we made some key objections; after the plaintiff rested, I made our motion to dismiss. It was granted. What made it so memorable was the client’s reaction. I remember turning to her and saying congratulations. Her response was, “so what’s next?” She didn’t quite realize that she had just won. When I explained to her that it was all over and she wouldn’t owe any money, I could see the complete change in her expression. I’ll never forget that look, and it has probably personally driven me ever since.”
When asked why other attorneys should participate in pro bono work, Beauvais had a compelling answer:
“Pro bono offers litigation experience to those who may not typically do litigation in their practice. Pro bono can open doors to new practice areas. The Lawyer for the Day program, in particular, offers a unique opportunity to network with practitioners with varying degrees of experience. I find that the best solutions to my private cases were the product of brainstorming with other clinic panel attorneys. There is, of course, the emotional benefit of knowing you helped someone in need; the complement to that is the social benefit of providing a service to someone who would not otherwise receive it.
I also feel pro bono involvement is a means of fulfilling our professional duty as attorneys. Our licenses give us the exclusive public trust of cultivating the law. Often the areas of law that require the most attention are those where the clients cannot afford an attorney. I think it’s important that we keep that in mind.”
Beauvais also points out that “attorneys who do pro bono work are often much more fun to work with and way more interesting than those who don’t.” While we at the BBA can’t necessarily confirm this as fact, it couldn’t hurt to find out for yourself.
To get involved in pro bono work, check out the BBA's Pro Bono Month Calendar here.