By Jodi Feldman
Just a few weeks ago, the Legal Aid Society recognized Joseph J. Patry, an associate at Blank Rome, with the first Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award. The award came at a special celebration recognizing Legal Aid’s Generous Associates Campaign and pro bono volunteers.
As part Blank Rome’s consumer financial services team, Joe regularly represents lenders and financial institutions in a variety of consumer finance litigation matters in federal and state court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers as a “Rising Star” in his field in Washington, D.C.
For those of us at Legal Aid, Joe has been a “shining star” in our Pro Bono Program over the past year. Joe focuses his pro bono work in the area of housing law, primarily housing conditions cases—cases brought by tenants against their landlords in D.C. Superior Court to ensure that their landlords make needed repairs and correct violations of the D.C. Housing Code.
Joe took his first case from Legal Aid in August 2015, and he keeps coming back for more. If a client is unresponsive or has lost contact, he wants to give them every last chance to get back in touch. If a case falls through, he’s ready for another. And if he’s already handling one case, he’ll take one more or help one of his colleagues do so.
“Joe cares passionately about his pro bono cases,” said Kathy Ochroch, Partner and Director of Pro Bono Services at Blank Rome. “He is incredibly dedicated to his pro bono clients, and he is a tireless advocate for them. He handles many pro bono cases on his own and is also a leader, encouraging others to get involved and working with them on cases.”
Once Joe has committed to helping a client, he isn’t deterred by obstacles arising along the way. For instance, Joe spent the most time this past year on a case that at first involved housing conditions, but quickly turned into an eviction case after the clients withheld their rent to force their landlord to address a bedbug infestation. But that was no problem for Joe: He agreed to represent his clients, a married couple, in Landlord and Tenant Court, whose cases are more complex and have higher stakes than those on the Housing Conditions Calendar.
The bedbug infestation in the couple’s apartment was so severe that they had to throw out their bed and their sofa; they were sleeping on the floor when they came to Legal Aid for help. With hard work and tenacity, Joe negotiated a favorable settlement for his clients. And when his clients couldn’t make a timely payment under the terms of the settlement agreement—making them vulnerable again to eviction—Joe fought hard to salvage the situation. Today, Joe’s clients remain in their home.
“As a litigator, I love helping to solve my client’s problems,” said Joe. “Working with Legal Aid to help clients who are one step away from eviction or who are living in very substandard housing has been incredibly gratifying. It has been a wonderful experience to be able to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Joe is a skilled and zealous advocate for his clients, but here at Legal Aid we’ve been most impressed by Joe’s patience and understanding of the challenges that his clients face in their day-to-day lives. As one of Joe’s client’s put it, “Joe understands people who don’t have a lot. We’re just trying to hold on, and he could see that.”
Jodi Feldman is the Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono and Training Programs at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.