Joel Feldman '85: Lawyer and
By Shira J. Boss
lawyers, Joel Feldman '85 started out as an idealist. Unlike
many, he has stayed one.
two partners, all of whom have backgrounds in legal aid, run a
Massachusetts law firm for low income clients. The firm, Heisler,
Fields & Feldman, in Springfield, Mass., specializes in
discrimination cases, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer protection
and illegal debt collection cases; it does not handle personal
clients a nominal retainer (such as $25) and instead recover
lawyer's fees from "fee shifting provisions" that make the
defendant pay the plaintiff's legal fees if the defendant loses. If
a case settles, the firm tries to negotiate a fee or else takes a
predetermined percentage of the settlement amount.
say, it is not a lucrative operation. The partners' financial goal
is to make what legal service lawyers generally make, which in
Massachusetts is $25,000 to $45,000, according to Feldman. Feldman
says he was making at the high end of that scale when he left his
last job as legal director of the Housing Discrimination Project in
Holyoke, Mass. a year ago.
To keep costs
down they use the Hampshire County Courthouse library and the
Internet for legal research, and employ an answering machine
instead of a secretary or any other staff.
measures, the firm is needed. Public legal services are overloaded,
there are not enough pro bono hours to go around, and most private
firms charge a retainer that can be prohibitive for poor people.
According to Western Massachusetts Legal Services, 80 to 85 percent
of the legal needs of the low-income population are never
"I went to
law school to help people," says Feldman, who graduated from
Harvard Law School. "That's why I worked in legal services for
years. [The partners at this firm] all care deeply about social
change work and people who haven't gotten the access they
married to Pamela Schwartz; they have two children, Isaiah, 3, and