This article was originally posted on Beyond the Billable, the BBA's public service blog. Click here to read the original article.
When you arrive at the Boston Bar Association Housing Court Lawyer for the Day (“Housing Court”) on Thursday, one thing you can be sure of is that Attorney Chris Saccardi will be there. Since 2009, Chris has donated his time every Thursday to assist unrepresented landlords and tenants on Eviction Day. As he gained more experience and knowledge, he began to take pro bono cases for full representation and eventually focused his private practice in the area of landlord/tenant law. Chris’ consistent presence has led to him being the go-to private attorney for recruiting and supervising other attorneys in the project.
We reached out to Chris to find out — why he donates his time to this Program, what some of his most meaningful memories are as a volunteer and asked him to share any tips for new volunteers.
Why does he give his time?
A significant majority of the people we assist are low-income or disabled, frequently don’t speak English as their first language, and are often unable to afford counsel. They typically face a landlord represented by an experienced attorney and the stakes could not be higher – the potential loss of their home or their rent subsidy. I think that it is very important to try to level this playing field and I have found that a little bit of legal advice can make a big difference. I also enjoy meeting and working with a wide variety of attorneys from various types of practices. I have made a lot of lasting friendships that have been important to me both personally and professionally. Finally, I have learned a tremendous amount both by taking on challenging cases and by asking questions of more experienced attorneys. This knowledge has been immensely helpful to me in my own practice.
Chris’ most memorable experiences as a volunteer:
I have found my pro bono work at the Housing court extremely gratifying. I helped a woman with an extremely sick child stay in her apartment by explaining to the landlord that the reason for her missed rent payments was her preoccupation with the health of her daughter. By arranging for a payment plan and actively monitoring her progress, I was able to get her back on track and concentrate on supporting her daughter.
In another instance, I spoke with an elderly tenant early in the day and was able to intercept the opposing counsel before she requested a hearing in front of a judge, which would have likely not gone well for the tenant. Instead, we were able to work out a simple repayment agreement that satisfied both parties. The tenant was so happy that she actually grabbed me and gave me a hug after the agreement had been signed.
In another case, I spoke with a tenant who I quickly came to understand had exhausted her legal options and was likely to be evicted. I sat down with her and listened to her story and gave her some advice about options for requesting a bit more time from the judge before her inevitable move-out date. When we were finished speaking, I expected her to be depressed by the disheartening news I had just given her. Instead she gave me a big smile and thanked me for my time, saying that this had been the first time someone had actually sat down and took the time to listen to her. I continue to be amazed at how much of a difference a little advice or a few kind words can make to many of the litigants I speak to at the Housing Court.
Chris’ advice to a new volunteer:
I would encourage them to participate! If they do, I suggest that they try to take as active a role as possible. While it may take a few sessions for new volunteers to start to feel knowledgeable, I suggest that they start talking to clients as soon as they can. There are always more experienced attorneys available to assist should a new attorney run into an issue with which they are not familiar. I suggest shadowing a more experienced attorney and attending a mediation, which is a great way to learn about the substantive housing issues in a typical case and to see first-hand how the procedures of the Housing Court play out.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, the Volunteer Lawyers Project in partnership with the Real Estate section of the Boston Bar Association will be having a training on “Trying a case in Boston Housing Court.” The esteemed panel includes the Honorable Jeffrey Winik, First Justice of the Boston Housing Court, Stefanie Balandis, Greater Boston Legal Services, Joanna Allison, Volunteer Lawyers Project and, of course, Chris Saccardi, the Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi.
*There is no fee for this program, but we ask that attendees put their new skills to work by taking on a pro bono case through the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
To register for this training, please click here.
The Lawyer for the Day in Boston Housing Court is supported by the Herbert W. Vaughan Fund of the Boston Bar Foundation.