The statistics are telling: approximately 90% of tenants and 50% of landlords go unrepresented in Boston’s Housing Court. There is an extremely high demand for assistance in this area, but the problem persists, as does the question, “What can the legal community do to mitigate this issue?” Part of the answer may lie in pro bono work.
Katy Ward of Mintz Levin
has dedicated a significant portion of her time outside the billable hour to finding a remedy and providing help to the influx of pro se litigants in Boston’s Housing Court. As co-director of Mintz Levin’s Housing Court Program, she organizes a monthly trip to Boston Housing Court as part of the Lawyer for the Day Program
and coordinates full representations of low-income tenants. She has also participated in Mintz Levin’s Domestic Violence Project. Katy emphasizes that she is “fortunate to work at a law firm…that not only supports but encourages associates to be involved in pro bono projects.”
But even apart from Mintz Levin’s encouragement, Ward’s passion for engaging in pro bono work is rooted deeply in the personal conviction that her efforts can change lives: “I love doing pro bono work for so many reasons, but the most important to me is the huge impact it can make on someone’s life…I have focused my work [at Housing Court] on representing low-income tenants who are usually unaware of the many rights they are afforded under Massachusetts law. This knowledge can mean the difference between a tenant staying in their home and getting evicted, having to bring their family to a shelter.”
Among other victories, her careful research and representation has helped a mother and her seven children avoid eviction from their home. The client was not only able to remain in the apartment, but she and her family were able to live there rent-free for several months because Ward documented the landlord’s many violations. As an unrepresented litigant, the mother may not have won her case; with Ward’s pro bono legal assistance, however, the family was saved from homelessness. These efforts ensure proper access to justice within what can be a very confusing system.
Another crucial component to providing pro bono assistance in Housing Court is the Vaughan Fund, which provides financial support for the Housing Court’s Lawyer for the Day Program. Without the fund and, by extension, without the full potential of the Program, thousands of low-income tenants and landlords would go unrepresented every year. Ward suggests that “for those who don’t have time to volunteer for the Lawyer for the Day Program, donating is a great way to contribute—and every little bit counts.”
Ultimately, the goal is to assist the pro se litigants coming to Housing Court – an effort that, as Ward points out, is just as beneficial to the attorney: “Everyone wins in pro bono work. The client gets access to legal representation that they normally wouldn’t have, and the attorney can improve their skills, broaden their network, and get satisfaction from knowing that they’ve really made a difference in someone’s life.”
If you would like to make a difference by donating to the Vaughan Fund, please visit the Boston Bar Foundation’s page here
. Information about other volunteer and public service opportunities is available through the Boston Bar Association’s Public Service page