Fall 2013 Pro Bono Spotlight: SERV Project

By Robin Murphy, Esq.

In April, 2012, Verrill Dana LLP and the Senior Partners for Justice Project responded to an urgent need for assistance with the large population of pro se litigants at the Suffolk Probate & Family Court.  After discussions with Judge Ginsburg, the Suffolk judges, and Chief Justice Carey, as well as investigating a project in Alaska, the Settlement and Early Resolution Volunteer (SERV) Project was launched.

The SERV Project was developed to help unrepresented litigants navigate the court system.  Without assistance, these largely impoverished litigants suffer through repeated court appearances and the inevitable loss of pay.  SERV has been successful in interrupting this cycle by bringing cases to judgment the first time the case comes to court. This has helped the court clear cases from their dockets while still insuring that the litigants have access to justice.  Currently, SERV settles between 10 and 15 cases a week.  There now is a SERV pilot project in Middlesex one day a week.

SERV volunteers act as conciliators and each party signs a waiver making clear that volunteers are not acting as a lawyer for either of them.  After more than a year, it is SERV’s experience that litigants are very motivated to compromise, resolve their cases, and accept information from experienced family law practitioners about options for resolving their conflict.  In short, SERV volunteers are really making a difference in the lives of those they are helping.  SERV handles divorces, separate support and paternity actions, complaints for custody and visitation, and complaints for modification. 

SERV is enlisting experienced family law practitioners to volunteer two days each year.  Currently, we are at Suffolk most Mondays and two Thursdays a month.  The time commitment is usually 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. An experienced SERV volunteer will be there each day to help with process and questions.  If you would like to volunteer, please contact Robin Murphy at rmurphy@verrilldana.com.

Robin has been practicing Family Law since 1988. She has extensive experience advocating for her clients’ interests in all areas of family law litigation and negotiation, including divorces, modifications, custody disputes, complaints to remove children from the Commonwealth, paternity actions, and abuse prevention actions. Robin has done pro bono cases for the Senior Partners for Justice under the auspices of the Volunteer Lawyers Project. She also is one of the founders of the Suffolk Early Resolution Volunteer Project (SERV PROJECT) a program developed and staffed by attorneys from Verrill Dana and the Senior Partners for Justice designed to intervene early in cases with unrepresented litigants in order to get a quick and fair resolution. Robin earned her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law and her undergraduate degree from University of Lowell.