In Western-MA, MassMutual Leads
Headquartered in Springfield, Mass., and having a large satellite office in nearby Enfield, Conn., with a combined legal department composed of 56 attorneys and 80 non-lawyers, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company** (MassMutual) has the distinction of employing more lawyers than any other company or law firm in the greater Springfield area. As a result, when the legal department started to formalize its pro bono efforts in 2007, it did not have the option of working with a larger legal department or large firm with an existing pro bono program. Instead, MassMutual developed its own distinctive pro bono effort. Over the past seven years, MassMutual has become the local pro bono leader, working with each local pro bono community organization, engaging local law firms in its pro bono efforts, and hosting trainings for volunteers both from MassMutual and other organizations.
MassMutual’s first pro bono partnership, formed in 2007, included local law firm Heisler, Feldman, McCormick and Garrow (HFMG). HFMG, which already had a strong commitment to pro bono, helped MassMutual get its initiative off the ground through the Western Division Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program. Collaborating with HFMG, The Women’s Bar Foundation, the Hampden County Bar Association, and Community Legal Aid, numerous MassMutual attorneys, including General Counsel Mark Roellig, volunteer at the weekly clinic on eviction day. In addition to staffing the clinic, MassMutual sponsors ongoing trainings for MassMutual and other volunteers which encourage a minimum of two volunteers to staff the eviction clinic every week. In the last two years, the Housing Court Lawyer for a Day Program served more than 169 clients. Overall, the efforts have engaged more volunteers, reduced the burden on public interest organizations involved with the Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program, and increased the number of clients receiving assistance.
MassMutual has continued its leadership in expanding pro bono legal services through its collaborations with other organizations. For instance, MassMutual partners with the Hampden County Bar Association (HCBA) to sponsor the HCBA Legal Clinic. The HCBA Legal Clinic centrally coordinates pro bono efforts throughout the county, including the existing Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program and Springfield District Court Lawyer for the Day Program. The District Court Lawyer for the Day program is unique in that it allows lawyers to assist consumers out of court. Attorneys problem-solve, guide consumers with court forms, and provide legal advice on civil issues. The types of cases covered in this program are small claims, supplementary process, unemployment appeals, summary process/evictions, and other general civil matters for pro se litigants. Since the program’s creation in May 2012, 575 consumers have been given legal advice and assistance with forms.=
More recently, MassMutual joined with the HCBA Legal Clinic and Community Legal Aid to explore expanding its pro bono efforts to the Probate and Family Court by training volunteers for a program whose volunteers review guardianship petitions and reports for the Court.
In an effort to inculcate aspiring lawyers with a sense of community service, MassMutual also collaborates with Western New England University School of Law to provide pro bono opportunities for law students.
While most of MassMutual’s pro bono work is centered in Massachusetts, MassMutual volunteers also engage in transactional pro bono opportunities through the Pro Bono Partnership (PBP) and assist nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in low income neighborhoods in the New York Tri-State area.
HCBA President-elect Christina Turgeon said:
MassMutual has historically played an active role in the Springfield community and over the last six years has helped shape the face of the pro bono services available. Its strategy to partner with the County Bar Association and other local providers of pro bono legal services has allowed for an expansion of existing projects and for the development of new and exciting programs, improving the quality of life for many and helping to secure access to justice regardless of economic status.
The PBEye applauds MassMutual’s in-house pro bono leadership.
** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory