Michelle Loveys Dozier: Protecting a single mom from domestic violence

A single mom, living in a small town miles away from her family. She supports her young daughter by working overnights at an entry-level job. She met a charming man who appeared supportive, loving, and kind. When he drank, though, he was violent and cruel. She pleaded with him to stop drinking, to get help. But the physical and emotional abuse worsened. He told her that he was all they had. She believed him. And then, one night, she stopped believing him. She stood up for herself, for her daughter.

She called the police. She was assigned a victim’s advocate. She was referred to NHLA.

Under the supervision of Attorney Stephanie Bray, I led her through the protective order process. We spent hours together—she telling her story, and me listening. Her goal was to provide a safe and secure home for her daughter and to force this man out of their lives. She needed the court’s help to do that. NHLA was there, every step of the way.

Clients like this one are why I spent my summer here. In the face of a complex legal system, poverty has way of paralyzing someone with uncertainty or fear. Learning from and working with the passionate team of legal professionals who help clients find their voice and a potential solution was inspiring. It reminded me why I left my career to seek legal training in order to serve.

Michelle Loveys Dozier became a juris doctor candidate after a 20-year career in public health. As a Warren B. Rudman Summer Fellow, she worked with attorneys in NHLA’s North Country, Manchester, and Concord offices. A Pro Bono Scholar, she will sit for the uniform bar exam in February 2018.

Sean Milligan: Education and Empowerment through the Law

I had many powerful, terrific experiences during my summer at NHLA, but I learned one of the greatest lessons from one of my smallest assignments. A gentleman came to NHLA looking for information. His would-be employer, a manager at a drug rehab facility, had told him that he needed to obtain a waiver from the state to work at the facility because he was a convicted felon. The manager had given him a printout of a statute outlining the process to obtain a waiver. However, the statute was vague, and so were the manager’s directions. The man felt lost and overwhelmed.

I reached a disappointing conclusion after a couple days of research. The statute was expired and current law provided a waiver application process only for people simultaneously applying to a state licensing board. I dreaded delivering the bad news. When I explained how the law meant he could not obtain a waiver to work at the facility, at least not yet, he surprised me. “That’s great,” he said. “At least I know now.”

It turns out, what was more valuable than the waiver itself was knowing how to proceed.

Lawyers don’t just serve people by representing them in court. People need clarity when dealing with the legal system. Legal aid empowers our clients by giving them sound explanations and advice, so they can make informed choices.

Sean Milligan, intern at the NHLA Claremont branch, formerly worked as a writer for the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry and as head of a commercial composting program. He is a juris doctor candidate at Vermont Law School with an anticipated graduation date of May 2019.

Nathaniel Smith: Preventing homelessness for a disabled woman

Besides the mountainous views, my strongest memory from the summer was a case that came to us just before the July 4 holiday weekend. My work was connecting patients of Ammonoosuc Community Health Services in Littleton with LARC, through the Medical Legal-Partnership (MLP). MLP clients primarily faced housing and family law issues that complicated their medical conditions, or their ability to access necessary medical care.

A mental health counselor learned the last week of June that one of his clients, “Ann,” had an eviction hearing on July 6. She had a new apartment lined up, but it wouldn’t be available until August. A month of homelessness would have exacerbated her already debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. I explained how the eviction process works, and immediately scheduled a time for the client to talk with an advocate at LARC. The advocate found serious deficiencies in the landlord’s paperwork.

The afternoon of the court date, the LARC advocate emailed me to share this news: When the judge asked if she had anything to say, Ann thought she might have closed her eyes and blurted out that the case must be dismissed because of the defective notice. Ann said the judge looked shocked, re-read the eviction notice, and declared Ann to be right. She now was able to stay housed until her new apartment is ready.

Nathaniel Smith worked with LARC as a member of the Rural Summer Legal Corps of Equal Justice Works. He is a juris doctorate candidate at Southern Illinois University School of Law, with an expected completion date of 2019.

Tabitha Bouchard: Keeping the lights on for a single mom

My entire summer with NHLA was a great experience, however, the memory that stands above the rest is the opportunity I had to help a single mom whose power was about to be turned off. I helped her appeal for help from her local welfare office, and sign up for an electricity assistance program to avoid future arrearage.

The local welfare office had scheduled the interview with our client for five days after her electric would be shut off. I advocated on her behalf and moved the interview to before the scheduled shut-off. We secured help paying the bill and kept the power on. I noticed at that point that the client was in a contract that prohibited her from participating in a discount program for low-income families. After we dealt with the imminent shut-off, I investigated how to enroll her in the electric assistance program to avoid future problems.

I wrote multiple legal memorandums, made countless phone calls and wrote dozens of emails to establish that she had no obligation to stay with the third-party energy source and could cancel at any time. Armed with this information, she canceled that agreement and qualified for the assistance program. Her bill is now manageable on her fixed income.

This experience built my knowledge in legal memorandum writing, administrative hearings, client face-to-face interaction, client interviewing, and oral advocacy. Beyond that, I expanded my understanding of resiliency and professionalism.

Tabitha Bouchard, a veteran of the Army National Guard and currently an adjutant general officer in the Vermont National Guard, worked at the Concord branch of NHLA. She is a juris doctorate candidate at Vermont Law School, with an expected completion date of May 2019.

NHLA and LARC both welcome law-student interns to their practice each summer. This year, the Campaign asked them about the most memorable experience from their months on the front lines of legal aid — Posted October 16, 2017