By Rachel Biscardi, Director of Pro Bono Projects, Women’s Bar Foundation
I have always loved mentoring new family law attorneys. Mentoring allows me to explain the nuances of practice as well as share stories of successful cases and those that were “learning experiences”. Nothing takes the sting out of a bad day in court more than turning it into a funny story. Mentoring also reinvigorates me, especially when it seems like my current cases make me want to hit my head against the wall, repeatedly. I like the idea of training a new crop of attorneys in best practices such as promptly responding to discovery requests, behaving civilly with opposing counsel, and maintaining appropriate relationships with clients. The advice is often simple: telling a newer attorney to remove her home address and phone number from the BBO website lest she be contacted at home by an opposing party. Some of those I mentor love family law and become colleagues. Some decide they never wish to practice family law. Thus far, thankfully, no one has decided to leave law altogether. Either way, through mentoring, I feel like I make a difference without having to represent the client myself.
I am lucky to work at the Women’s Bar Foundation (WBF) where mentoring is a large part of my job. The WBF is unique in promulgating the use of mentors in its projects. The Family Law Project (FLP), the largest at the WBF, recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys to represent low-income survivors of domestic violence in their family law matters. This year, we have referred over 150 cases. The Family Law Project assigns each volunteer attorney an individual mentor. FLP mentors are also some of the most seminal practitioners of family law in Massachusetts, including most of the lawyers in the BBA Family Law Section. The WBF only has three requirements for mentoring: (1) practice experience; (2) sensitivity to domestic violence; and (3) a willingness to share your knowledge with someone newer to practice.
Mentors do not meet with the clients or the opposing party; instead, they provide advice and guidance on the cases. For attorneys who have never practiced family law, mentorship is crucial. Volunteer attorneys often cite their relationship with their mentors as a huge benefit of volunteering with the FLP. Mentors, on the other hand, often say that mentoring is an easy way to do pro bono work. Many mentors develop referral relationships with their mentees. Mentees refer more challenging cases to their mentors, and mentors refer clients to mentees who may not be able to afford their rates. We have had many instances where mentors and mentees have become close colleagues for years after their FLP cases end.
Given the influx of pro se litigants in the court, the demand for pro bono legal assistance is higher than ever before. Many of us regularly donate our time. If you are looking for an opportunity to volunteer that is not time consuming but immensely rewarding to your psyche and your practice, I would recommend mentoring. If you are interested in mentoring with the Women’s Bar Foundation’s Family Law Project, please contact me at email@example.com or at 617-973-6666 x 2215.
Rachel Biscardi is the Director of Pro Bono Projects at the Women’s Bar Foundation (WBF) where she recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys to represent low-income victims of domestic violence in their family law cases. She is the recipient of Lawyer’s Weekly 2013 Excellence in the Law Award, Boston University School of Law's 2013 Public Interest Award, and the Women's Bar Association's 2010 Certificate of Service. Before joining the WBF, Ms. Biscardi worked at Community Legal Aid, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, and as a judicial law clerk in the Probate and Family Court. Ms. Biscardi teaches family law at New England Law, Boston University and Northeastern University Schools of Law. In 2010-2011, Ms. Biscardi served as the Women’s Bar Association’s (WBA) representative on the Legislative Task Force on Alimony which drafted the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 codified in MGL c. 208 § 48-55. Currently, she is the WBA representative on the Governor’s Working Group on Child-centered Family Laws which is reviewing the custody laws in Massachusetts. Ms. Biscardi is the former co-chair of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Coalition, which is comprised of law firms, district attorney’s offices, legal service agencies, and batterer’s intervention programs. Ms. Biscardi is also a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Family Law Steering Committee and the Legal Services Family Law Task Force. She has authored several articles on the value of pro bono work in such journals as the BBA Family Law Journal and the WBA Chronicle. She has also appeared in television shows such as “Chronicle” and “Greater Boston with Emily Rooney”. Ms. Biscardi is a graduate of Boston University School of Law with a specialization in litigation and dispute resolution.