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Career Story: Lawyer For Public Housing Authorities

Lawyer For Public Housing Authorities

Job Title: Attorney

Type of Company: Law firm representing the public housing authorities.

Education: BA, Political Science, UMass-Amherst •• MA, Criminal Justice, Northeastern University •• JD, Suffolk University

Previous Experience: I worked as a paralegal and law clerk at a large Boston law firm. I also clerked at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a government agency.

Job Tasks: I represent 35 public housing authorities.

There are really three parts to my job: 1. prosecuting eviction cases in court, 2. providing training to housing authority managers and staff, and 3. answering day to day questions about how housing authority managers should handle tenant lease violations and staff disciplinary problems. I am in court generally 1-3 times each week. Usually, I am there to finalize agreements between tenants and housing authorities, and have the court sign off. Occasionally, I participate in a full trial because no agreement could be reached, or make a motion arguing that a tenant has violated a previously signed agreement.

I travel to the various housing authorities in my territory 2-4 times each week. During these meetings, I explain to tenants how they've violated their leases, and ask if they can agree to cease all violations. If the tenants agree, we sign an formal agreement.

Once a month or so, I offer training sessions for housing staff. These sessions cover a variety of topics, but mostly focus on state regulations: how, for example, to compute tenant rents or handle tenant grievances. Sometimes, I talk about staff disciplinary actions or about drafting progressive discipline policies so that employees have plenty of warning about problems on the job. Occasionally, I conduct a training session for the board of commissioners of a housing authority. Since these are policy makers (and not administrators), I mostly try show them how policy can altered. I also brief them on the open-meeting laws with which they have to comply.

During the rest of my day, I answer questions from my office, either by phone, fax, email or sometimes, in writing. Managers often want to know whether the facts of their particular case warrant the initiation of legal proceedings such as eviction. Tenants, for example, are required by state law to declare their income in full, and the rent they pay is based on the amount they declare. Some tenants, naturally, try to lower their rents by hiding some of their income. This is fraud, and it is a serious lease violation.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Mostly, I love my job. I like the fact that my clients (mostly housing authority staff and managers) respect me and appreciate my help. I like the fact that I can often broker practical solutions for tenants who've violated the terms of their leases. I like it when these things work out.

The part that's hard is having to evict people, as I sometimes have to do. For the most part, fortunately, by the time a court agrees to this draconian solution, every other avenue's been tried and the tenant has been given many chances to pay his arrears or correct his bad behavior. I don't feel badly for the adults in such cases, but I do feel very badly for their children.

Job Tips: There are so many lawyers these days that it is often hard to get a job practicing law. But many law school grads use their skills at other jobs. If you do want to go to law school, you need to get very good grades in college. Lots of people wonder about what is the best way to prepare is. The best major, frankly, is whatever you're most interested in; you'll do better and get better grades in the subject that interests you most. Being a good writer is very important, so if English is of interest, that is a great major for a pre-law student.

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