Fish & Richardson has joined the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence pro bono program, committing to providing free legal services for victims of domestic violence seeking a restraining order, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced Friday.
“Our pro bono program provides a vital service to victims of domestic violence and we are grateful for the addition of Fish & Richardson to this important effort,” said Ryan. “With Fish & Richardson, we now have 11 Boston-area law firms that provide free legal assistance to help a survivor navigate the civil restraining order process. Where cases of domestic violence are about power and control that the abuser exhibits over the victim, including financial control, this is a way we can make sure that a survivor has access to legal resources and support.”
“Fish & Richardson is proud to partner with the Middlesex County Domestic Violence Pro Bono Attorney Program, and to have the opportunity to serve as advocates for individuals seeking protection from abusive relationships,” said Lawrence Kolodney, principal of Fish & Richardson in a press release. “Pro bono work is an integral part of our firm culture, and we place a high priority on helping those in need in our communities. We are honored to be able to contribute to this vital and potentially life saving program.”
The Middlesex District Attorney's pro bono program, created in 2008, was designed to address a significant gap in the way that domestic violence victims are served during the restraining order process.
Specifically, because a restraining order is a civil document, Assistant District Attorneys are unable to represent victims during that process.
Many of those victims are unable to afford an attorney as, oftentimes, it is the abuser who controls the household finances.
To address this problem, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office initially partnered with Proskauer Rose and then Cooley Manion Jones to identify victims whose cases presented particular challenges and then refer those cases to the firms for free representation.
These restraining order hearings are critical, as they not only work to assure that the abuser cannot come in contact with the victim, but also frequently address other important issues such as assuring continued child support, utility payments, mortgage payments and health insurance payments.
Since its inception, the program has served more than 100 victims, with a 97 percent success rate of cases resolved in favor of the victim.
There have been 54 attorneys who have participated in the pro-bono program, all of whom have received extensive training and support. Nine attorney mentors from legal service and private practice provide training, guidance and technical assistance to the attorneys.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with community-based domestic violence and legal services programs will provide training for lawyers from Fish & Richardson beginning next month.
Other firms that participate in the program are: Robinson & Cole, Rich May, Holland & Knight, Greenberg Traurig, Brody Hardoon Perkins & Kesten, Proskauer Rose, Cooley Manion Jones, WeilGotshal & Manges, Wilmer Hale, and Melick Porter.
In 2012, there were approximately 30,000 restraining orders filed by victims of domestic violence in the Commonwealth.
In Middlesex County alone, there were approximately 5,000 restraining orders filed by victims. Of that number, the DA’s office and community-based victims advocates estimate that approximately half of the victims did not return for a 10-day hearing to extend the restraining order for the full year. A significant reason for that is that many of them did not have legal representation.
Since the inception of the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Attorney Program, 90 percent of victims referred to the program returned to court for restraining order hearings.
Any law firm that is interested in joining this program is asked to call the District Attorney’s Director of Community Partnerships Shawn MacMaster at 781-897-8462.