Limited assistance representation (LAR) has been offered in the Massachusetts Housing Court for the past three years, but it is still underutilized both by litigants and attorneys. BBA Week wanted to find out more about what LAR looks like in the Housing Court from an attorney’s perspective, and specifically focus on whether it is a viable economic model for lawyers looking to build a solo practice.
We sought the expertise of Christopher Saccardi, who has his own practice in Somerville, and Mary K.Y. Lee, who also practices independently in Boston. Both started their LAR work in Boston’s Housing Court.
I started my LAR practice through pro bono work at the Boston Housing Court and have found it useful in my own practice to allow me to charge lower total fees for a specific piece of a case,” says Saccardi when asked why he initially chose to provide LAR. “Because there are so many unrepresented litigants in the Housing Court, there is a lot of opportunity for LAR.”
Lee agrees. “I personally think LAR is a viable economic model for solo practitioners, especially for those just starting out. It is efficient, and the one-time representation serves the immediate legal needs of the client as well as serving the financial need of the attorney….Overall, LAR balances the economic scale for those who can afford full representation with those who cannot afford any representation.”
LAR has a solid economic foundation because the client pays for the portion(s) of the case that the attorney handles, something that is discussed in extensive detail before any work is done. There are multiple ways to determine costs. According to Saccardi: “In instances where there is no opportunity for…fee recovery, I charge hourly and sometimes fixed fees, depending on the nature of the assistance requested. I also tend to take on a lot of lower-income clients for whom I charge reduced fees.” Lee charges similarly and also likes to have a pro bono case at all times.
In Housing Court, LAR has the potential to provide an especially welcome option to litigants and a great service to the court system at large. Right now, about 95% of tenants who appear in Housing Court are self-represented, a statistic that could be lowered with a better understanding of LAR and how it works. Both Saccardi and Lee continue to incorporate LAR into their current practices since there are ample chances to use it.
The advantages to LAR are numerous. It provides a certain amount of legal assistance to litigants who otherwise would not use any at all. Significant financial benefits also exist on both sides, since litigants do not have to pay for full representation and lawyers can charge a fee for the work that they do. There is also more flexibility in LAR, since the reduced time commitment allows for more room in scheduling.
Finally, we were curious to know how litigants find attorneys doing LAR in Housing Court. Saccardi cites Google searches as one route, since he specializes solely in landlord-tenant law. He is the first result for the search “landlord-tenant law + limited assistance representation.” All of Lee’s clients are referrals by the BBA Lawyer Referral Service, community agencies, community nonprofits, friends, and family.
For information on LAR certification, please click here.