The legal aid community lost two of its strongest advocates last month as Jeff Goodrich and Steve McGilvary concluded their careers at 603 Legal Aid. Each has more than 20 years of experience and expertise in the delivery of legal assistance at the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC) before and after its merger with the Pro Bono Referral Program in June 2021 to create 603 Legal Aid. Both will continue to serve the public through some contract work with 603 Legal Aid, but we – and our clients – are going to sorely miss their daily presence.
We sat down with Jeff and Steve to reflect on their careers and how legal aid in New Hampshire has evolved over the years.
When did your career in legal aid start?
Jeff Goodrich: My resume lists 1998 as the year I started at LARC. I know I worked part-time for a while before being offered a full-time position.
Steve McGilvary: I believe I started in March of 2000.
Do you remember your first day on the job?
JG: I believe it consisted of basic orientation with the office procedures, shadowing advocates as they performed their duties and functions and becoming familiar with the client software that LARC used at the time. It was a rather steep learning curve, but one I enjoyed thoroughly.
SM: I’m not sure if I remember my very first day, but I do remember speaking to one client within my first week. A woman with several small children called to find out if she had to leave her apartment on the day her eviction notice expired – which was that very day. I had received enough training to assure her she did not have to leave her apartment that day. She broke into tears of relief and thanked me repeatedly. I knew I had provided an important service to that woman and that this was something I wanted to continue to do.
What were things like when you began working for legal aid?
JG: LARC was very different 20 years ago. We would take calls off the line from 9 am to 1 pm and then spend the afternoon calling clients back who would leave messages on our individual voicemail. Each advocate did their own screening of the clients and then went right into giving advice and counseling during the call.
SM: When I began working in legal aid, the different programs – LARC, NHLA, and Pro Bono – were more insular. The agencies did occasionally collaborate, but nowhere near to the extent they do today.
What is the biggest improvement you’ve seen in legal aid?
JG: I think the legal service community in New Hampshire is much more unified and coordinated than in previous years. For a time, LARC, Pro Bono and NHLA had their own client service software which required a lot of administrative work when transferring cases from one entity to another.
SM: The biggest change I’ve seen during my career has been the merger with Pro Bono this summer. The merger that created 603 Legal Aid is, for me, symbolic of the way legal aid in New Hampshire evolved. We morphed from several insular “fiefdoms” who often duplicated services, into the collaborative legal aid network we have today. 603 Legal Aid now does most, if not all, of the screening for NHLA. This “super” collaboration has been a boon for clients.
Why have you dedicated your career to civil legal aid?
JG: I devoted the lion’s share of my career to legal services because I felt that making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people was important and this was something I wanted to participate in. I believe everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law. Unfortunately, when one party has knowledge of the legal system or the ability to pay for knowledgeable help, and the other party has neither, equal justice is not always guaranteed. Justice should not be reserved for the well-heeled. Legal aid is instrumental in ensuring that access to justice is available to everyone.
SM: I appreciate fairness. Helping someone get a “fair shake” has always been very gratifying to me. Civil legal aid is important because it gives poor people who can’t hire an attorney an opportunity to still obtain a fair outcome in court.
What sort of legacy do you believe your colleague leaves behind?
JG: Steve’s one of the most dedicated advocates at the office. He always goes above and beyond for his clients. He seems to be immune to being burned out. He’s always ready to take a call and help a client in need. There have been eviction cases when clients are on the verge of being locked out of their homes. One case I remember was during the holiday season last year. This was when the eviction moratorium was still in place. Steve submitted a motion at the eleventh hour to recall the writ of possession in accordance with the moratorium. He helped the client get a new hearing which resulted in the client not being evicted. Thanks to Steve’s last-minute help, that client got a new lease on life.
SM: For the last 20 years, attorney Jeff Goodrich could be described as legal aid’s nuclear submarine. Jeff worked mostly out of sight, just “beneath the surface.” He rarely gave interviews to the media or lectured before audiences, so his name wasn’t known to everyone. But the results of his legal work were very powerful. Jeff helped thousands of family law and housing clients to avoid harm and achieve great outcomes in their legal cases. He deserves to be remembered for his fantastic, silent service to legal aid.