Pro Bono Protection
By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Contrary to modern myth and endless jokes, lawyers aren’t only in it for the money. Many give back to the community by doing free work for those who need legal help but have few if any financial resources.
Nashua attorney Katherine J. Morneau has even won an award for her pro bono commitment.
“We have this amazing justice system, but people do not have equal access, and this is not fair. Just because you don’t make a hundred grand a year, doesn’t means you don’t have a right to representation,” said Morneau, who was given a Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award by the New Hampshire Bar Association last year.
And she is not alone. “(There are) a lot of lawyers who do a ton of this work. There are so many very generous attorneys who give of their time,” she said.
And a little help goes a long way.
Morneau also received the Nashua Bar Association’s Ted Jordan/Joe Gall Humanitarian Award this year. She graduated from Franklin Pierce University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology, and the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.
But she said she learned the importance of community giving at home. Morneau grew up in Littleton, where her father volunteered for the ski patrol and her mother operated a consignment store for children’s clothing.
She said their example inspired her. “I think it’s important to give back, especially if you have a special skill,” she said.
Morneau wants other lawyers to know that handling pro bono work does not necessarily require a lot of time.
“Getting a restraining order may only require one court appearance,” she said.
The five other lawyers in her family practice, Morneau Law in Nashua, also do pro bono work. “We do our best to do what we can for people of modest means,” she said.
People sometimes ask Morneau how she can tolerate handling restraining orders, divorces and other aspects of family law.
“But I just love it,” she said. “You see people who are dealing with the worst times of their lives, and you help them get through it. Often these people have never had anybody stand up for them.”
She spoke of a pro bono client who had a small child and was dealing with an abusive relationship.
“She had been told for years that she was a nobody. Just being in my office took a lot of courage. She was just a puddle of tears. But she got a restraining order and she got through it and now she is a strong and powerful woman. That was six years ago, and I still get a Christmas card from her every year.”
Pro bono work is especially important in cases of domestic violence because victims have often had all their resources taken away by their abuser.
Morneau is a member of the Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project, a program of the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono Referral Program, which provides victims of violence and stalking with emergency legal services.
It is operated in partnership with domestic violence service agencies throughout the state and relies on the donated services of specially trained attorneys who provide free legal representation to qualifying clients at final domestic violence and stalking restraining order hearings The New Hampshire Lawyer Referral Service is another project of the state bar association.
“It’s a really good resource,” Morneau said. “There are a lot of resources available to people in New Hampshire if you just look in the right spot.”
She finds donating her legal services gratifying and encourages all lawyers to do pro bono work.
“There’s a huge need for it in the state,” she said. “A huge need.”