Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

February, 2004

PRO BONO PROFILE

Contract Negotiations and Name Changes: Meaningful Pro Bono

By Lisa Muscara

Pro bono issues in the “Business Law” edition of the Bulletin? You bet! Pro bono opportunities extend far beyond the commonly associated family law, bankruptcy and landlord/tenant cases. This reality is not news to Nicole Papa, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, LLP’s Business Transaction Group who recently put her professional experience to work to help protect the interests of a special non-profit community group.

If Georges Seurat had been looking for a park scene to paint in Baltimore, he could have headed straight for Patterson Park’s Marble Fountain. Built in 1864, the Fountain was the first architectural element in Patterson Park and served for many years as the central meeting place within the park. By 2000, however, this historic landmark had fallen into disrepair. In 2002, the Friends of Patterson Park, a non-profit membership organization, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the TKF Foundation specifically for the restoration of the Marble Fountain. This grant contribution was generously matched by funds from the Department of Recreation & Parks. The combination of contributions from a private foundation to a public park project created new legal and financial complications for the Friends of Patterson Park. Enter Nicole Papa and the Community Law Center (CLC).

To proceed with their funding, the TKF Foundation needed assurances that the funds they had granted and that the City had promised would be available specifically for the fountain project and that the work would proceed as the Friends described it. To help formalize these assurances, the Friends of Patterson Park contacted the CLC, a nonprofit public interest law firm which creates and implements innovative legal strategies to improve conditions for their clients. Their clients are community-based organizations representing low income urban communities whose purpose is to improve the economic viability and quality of life in their neighborhoods.

Volunteering through the CLC, attorney Nicole Papa created a grant agreement between the Friends of Patterson Park and the City. This contract outlined what would happen to the funds after they went to the city and helped to assure that the Friends’ interests were protected throughout the year-long process. The completed contracts between the City of Baltimore, the TKF Foundation and the Friends of Patterson Park define the responsibilities of each party in the partnership and allow for the flow of funds between each organization. These documents were so exemplary that they will serve as a model for future public/private partnerships for capital projects involving private funding and park friends groups.

Papa remarked on how the people involved in the negotiations created a positive experience.  “The Friends of Patterson Park is such an incredible organization,” she says. “It’s very well run, and the people are very dedicated…and everyone who was working on this project; they were all great people. There’s a representative from the Department of Recreation and Parks, Gennedy Schwarz, who was very dedicated. And the Assistant City Solicitor, who I actually negotiated the grant agreement with, was very good to work with. So we had a good group, which always makes things go so much more smoothly. It was really a pleasure to work on this project. I mean it was not work; it was all just a good situation.”

In her pro bono service, Papa has also ventured beyond her full-time practice area of Business Law. She has worked on a number of cases through Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), including participating in their annual income tax clinics. She is also particularly fond of completing name changes for clients. The name changes she particularly enjoys because she finds them to be “a manageable project to do, and I get to meet the people and interact with them and then help them do something positive. So it’s something to feel really good about, but it’s also manageable within my schedule.”

Pro bono work offers Papa the opportunity to work on cases that have a very different feel to them than her regular practice. She especially likes the opportunity to work directly with the clients. “I really like the people,” she admits. “I like being with them, and sometimes the name changes involve children. And so people will bring their children in, and that’s really fun. Usually, I don’t get to work with children at all.”

Papa has experienced great support of her pro bono efforts both from her own firm and from the legal services providers with whom she has volunteered. “There is plenty of support,” she explains. “They have in-house lawyers at the Community Law Center, and MVLS also has people who can help, who are actually part of the organization or other volunteer lawyers….and people in the firm here help me also, if I need it.  It’s not like you’re out there on your own. You have plenty of support from the people at these organizations.”

Papa remembers a scene from early in her professional career that inspired her to pursue pro bono service. “When I first started [practicing], we had to go to classes for ethics, and they had lawyers come in and talk with us,” she recalls. “It just seemed like the lawyers who were the happiest were the lawyers that involved themselves in community work.” In speaking with her, it is clear that Papa has found a balance within her work that makes her happy and benefits our community at the same time.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2004

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