Dorothy Varon and Kathy McGrath
Location: Springfield and Boston, Mass.
Every Thursday across Massachusetts, landlords and tenants converge on their local courthouses for “Eviction Day.” They’re joined by an army of volunteer lawyers—in large part thanks to the work of Dorothy Varon, assistant vice-president and counsel at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance (No. 94), and Kathy McGrath, senior corporate counsel at Liberty Mutual Insurance Group (No. 78). Working independently, the two attorneys have helped make the Massachusetts version of the pro bono legal defense program called “Lawyer for a Day” a much-heralded success. Each got her company to devote ample resources to the effort, which offers residents who can’t afford an attorney qualified legal help that can keep them in their homes during an eviction proceeding. “The idea is to reduce homelessness,” Dorothy says.
The volunteer lawyers, who focus on different parts of the state—MassMutual concentrates its effort on the Springfield area, Liberty Mutual works in Boston—try to mediate disputes so that their clients can either remain in their homes, stretch the time before they are evicted, or reduce the back rent owed. In one of Varon’s cases, for example, a disabled veteran taking care of her severely disabled son was being evicted due to her hoarding problem. Dorothy was able to work with services through the Housing Court to help the veteran keep her home and receive the social services she needed. “Without a lawyer, she never would have known that they were trying to switch gears on her, and she wouldn’t have been able to put up [an appropriate] defense,” Varon says.
McGrath, for her part, has also started bringing colleagues in the Liberty’s law department to volunteer at homeless shelters in Boston, helping some qualify for public housing. The two attorneys, who have become friends, are fierce advocates of pro bono work: Varon started Mass Mutual’s internal pro bono program in 2007 soon after she arrived at the company; McGrath is responsible for five of the seven pro bono programs her company now has. Both are recipients of the Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards for their service in the state.