Last year I went to Portland, Maine, to work at Pine Tree Legal Assistance for spring break, as part of the BU Law Pro Bono Program’s spring service trips. The work was so educational, so interesting, and so fulfilling that I decided to go for a second round! I was the only student from last year’s crew to go back, and I’m glad I did.
Some people ribbed me a little for choosing to go somewhere colder for spring break than Boston, but they’re forgetting one little thing: Portland actually got less snow than Boston this snowy winter! And another thing: I couldn’t have afforded to spend a week somewhere warm. Besides, I like Portland, and I love legal aid.
Sure, I could have spent the week putting the polish on my journal note, or polishing my nails, but in Portland, I got to polish off some delicious food (all anyone wants to talk to you about in Portland is the food) and put in 40 hours of service on a shiny-new legal issue.
We spent most of the week researching revenge porn, an emerging (exploding) phenomenon where people post nude or compromising photos or video without the consent of the subject, usually after a breakup or similar (hence “revenge”). Websites dedicated to encouraging men to post their exes’ contact information and images pop up, but it occurs on more mainstream social media, as well. For the Pine Tree project, we cataloged 2014 revenge porn incidents based on data we collected from protection from abuse order filings and reviewed all 50 states’ applicable statutes and relevant case law, all with a focus on incidents involving minors. What we found wasn’t surprising so much as saddening. Many states don’t have a law targeting this form of harassment, and it’s quite widespread.
Additionally, we helped with research on individualized education plans (IEPs), charter schools, school choice laws, lead paint poisoning’s effect on education access, the differences between the protections afforded by FERPA and HIPAA, and other emerging educational issues. Students also called legal services organizations nationwide to ask about intake and other procedural questions.
Finally, we observed Pine Tree’s attorney in protection from abuse order court. We had read through over a thousand restraining order complaints earlier in the week, so it was interesting to see the next step in the process. The courtroom, as you might imagine, gets pretty tense. We watched a few cases where only one party showed up, then saw two hearings. As a future lawyer, I paid close attention to technique, attorney-client relationships, and the judge’s reactions. We saw a wide range of styles, some of which I would never dream of imitating, as well as some excellent advocacy. It was a great cap on the legal research portion of our week.
Once again, all the people at Pine Tree were as friendly, helpful, and wise as you’d hope a team of selfless attorneys might be! We had the good fortune to dine with a staff member and attorney on our first night in town, and their warm welcome set the tone for the week. The five other students and I were accompanied by a great chaperone, a BU staff member, who got right into the work with us when she could. Every student pulled their weight, even when the work was a bit emotionally trying (see: speed-reading through more than a thousand complaints, many involving extremely abusive behavior). And everyone had a great time in the evenings, when we visited some of Portland’s coolest restaurants, walked along the waterfront, and even had a happy hour gathering with some generous local BU Law alumni.
My spring break may have been chilly, but it warmed this pro bono-loving lawyer’s heart nonetheless!