Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 31, 2021

Boatner’s success: Eviction avoided

Anne Boatner says she’s landed her dream job as an attorney.

A graduate of Girls Preparatory School, the City University of New York and Vanderbilt Law School, Boater, 33, is not practicing corporate law or litigating cases for a large firm. Rather, she’s in the trenches with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, where she does eviction defense as part of a collaborative program with other local entities.

Having grown up in a lower-middle class home – and after developing an acute sense of class consciousness in undergraduate school – Boatner says the work is perfect for her.

Here, Boatner discusses the Eviction Prevention Initiative and the journey that took her the long way from GPS to Legal Aid.

Give us a primer on Anne Boatner.

“I was born outside of Washington, D.C., grew up near Philadelphia and moved to Chattanooga for middle and high school. After I graduated from GPS, I lived in D.C. for two years, New York City for eight and then moved to Nashville for law school. So, I’ve lived 50% of my life in the mid-Atlantic and 50% of my life in Tennessee. I’m a half-and-halfer.”

Now give us a primer on the Eviction Prevention Initiative.

“Emily O’Donnell started the program and then transferred it to us when she became the city attorney. It’s a joint program between Legal Aid, the Southern Adventist School of Social Work and Habitat for Humanity. We pair people who are facing eviction with a free attorney and a social worker who links them to services and other resources they need.

“On the legal end, we do what we can to prevent eviction. One thing that’s exciting about this program is we have a discretionary fund I can use in negotiations to pay back rent, whereas some of the state funds might take time.”

What do you do during a typical day?

“A lot of what I do ends up being out-of-court settlement negotiation. Being a semi-phone phobic millennial, blind calling another attorney scares me a little, but this job allows me to do actual lawyering, whereas the attorneys at a law firm where I previously worked spent their first three years doing document review.

What do you do at the end of a typical day?

“Go home and say, ‘I kept a family in their house for Christmas.’ My favorite part of my job is calling someone and saying, ‘I’m going to pick up a check that will pay your entire background rent and deliver it to the other lawyer – and they’re gonna dismiss your case.’

“I’ve had the privilege of making that call a few times. It gave me chill bumps every time. I’m not sure that’s going to wear off anytime soon.”

What’s your least favorite part of your job?

“Having to operate within a system that’s deeply unsympathetic toward renters. Also, operating in a system I can’t change. I can’t change that this person has to pay $1,500 a month to rent a gross one-bedroom apartment that’s covered in black mold.

“There’s also the sense of frustration that comes with helping two people but existing in a world that will unceremoniously kick 50 people out of their apartment on a Thursday.”

How did your sense of class consciousness develop?

“I ended up at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York system during the financial crises of 2008. I had applied to a number of private schools but I didn’t want to take out any loans. I come from a lower-to-middle class family and didn’t have a college fund, so I decided to go to CUNY, which was designed to educate working class New Yorkers.”

What did you intend to study?

“I didn’t know. But I loved having the freedom to dip my toes into different fields and investigate what might interest me. Because I went to a school with low tuition and was effectively paid to go to school, I could take an anthropology class one semester because it sounded interesting and fun. There wasn’t any pressure to earn a degree and jump into the workforce.

“I’m grateful for that because I was able to pursue really some fun opportunities. I was part of a program called the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which provided paid internships for three summers of undergrad.

“My first year, I worked in the education department at the New York Historical Society. My second year, I worked at a law firm called Hughes, Hubbard & Reed. And my third summer, I worked at the Institute for International Education in Hungary.”

You sound proud of your alma mater.

“I am. We need more universities like CUNY. My undergrad diploma is on display on my bookshelf, and my law school diploma is still rolled up in the tube in which it came. I’m much more excited about and proud of my undergrad.”

Did the internship at Hughes Hubbard steer you toward the law?

“I initially considered going into academia. CUNY funnels a large number of students directly into Ph.D.’s. And I loved the idea of working directly with young minds and helping to change the world that way.

“Social justice issues have always framed my life. Being a product of 2008, our generation is sensitive to social justice issues because we’ve seen their impact on our peers.

“But after my second year at CUNY, I started debating between changing minds from the top down in the education system and going into the law, which can have a more direct impact on lives. I thought working for Hughes Hubbard would break the tie.

“And it did. I worked for the pro bono arm of the firm, which was one of two in the city of New York that did indigent criminal defense. Having a direct hand in the client experience, visiting clients at Rikers and taking cases to trial – the collaborative nature of the law blew me away. I was really drawn to it.”

What was your next step toward the law?

“I worked for Hughes Hubbard for two years after I graduated from CUNY. Although I was able to return to the criminal trial program, at least 85% of my work was corporate. And I learned I didn’t want to be a corporate lawyer. While the lack of work-life balance turned me off, a lot of people go into the law not for the money but to help others.”

That notion took you to law school. What was that experience like?

“I didn’t love law school. It’s a universally tough thing. But I was able to become involved with some social justice work. I volunteered with the LGBTQ+ law association and did name change clinics for trans folks. Getting direct service experience in law school made the experience a little less terrible.”

How did you come to be in Chattanooga?

“When I was in Hungary, my mom had breast cancer, and being an ocean away from my family bothered me. Then I was in a bad car accident a couple of days after graduation, which put everything on pause. My mom, who lives here, said, ‘Come home and heal.’ So I did.”

When did you connect with Legal Aid?

“All the things I had lined up for after graduation didn’t exist anymore, so I decided to hold out for a job at Legal Aid because it’s the only place in Chattanooga that does the kind of work I want to do.

“I did take cases pro bono for friends and other people who needed help and worked at a restaurant to pay my bills. I nearly applied to one local firm, but I’m glad I didn’t. I held out for my dream job – and I actually had clients to represent my second week of work.”

What do you do when you’re not lawyering?

“I co-founded Chattanooga Harm Reduction Coalition, which provides training for overdose reversals. We distribute Naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and we train people on how to use it. We also do training on safe use practices at some of the homeless camps in town.”

Does telling people about that work ever raise eyebrows?

“Everybody has the right to make choices with which we don’t agree. Harm reduction is about respecting that autonomy and doing what we can to ensure those choices are made safely.”

Since working for Legal Aid is your dream, would you like to make a career of it?

“Historically, I’ve done well with having an ambiguous sense of what my future will look like. I like not knowing the details. It’s gotten me pretty far.

“But could I make a career out of this? Absolutely. Our deputy director has worked for Legal Aid for 31 years.

“Even if I don’t stay with Legal Aid, I still hope to assist people with direct legal services. I initially thought this might be my steppingstone to nonprofit work, but I’m not sure. So, yeah, ambiguous. Let’s go.”