Kenneth Caisse ()
Kenneth Caisse sees his role as leveling the playing field. Often, he says, he steps into divorce cases where one spouse is represented by a lawyer—or an entire legal team—and another spouse cannot afford legal representation.
If it weren’t for pro bono lawyers, the self-represented party might “bumble or stumble along in the process or perhaps be taken advantage of by the spouse or how the system operates. … [That] spouse is going to be at a disadvantage,” said Caisse, a partner at Loudon Caisse Hainey, which has offices in Hartford and Norwich.
For his assistance in family court matters in New London County, Caisse is one of about a dozen lawyers statewide who have been recognized by the Judicial Branch for their pro bono work. Caisse and the others will be recognized at the Law Tribune’s Honors Night in June.
Susan Connors, Norwich Superior Court’s presiding judge for family matters, said she polled many people on the “bench, the bar and the courthouse staff” before picking Caisse. The judge said Caisse does pro bono work for all the right reasons. “A lot of times people do the pro bono work to get the recognition,” said Connors. “He graciously offers his services, just to be helpful.”
If Caisse is in court for a short calendar call session, and he sees that divorcing parties are waiting for a mediator, he will sometimes step in. “He just sees if he can resolve that case,” Connors said.
Caisse recently came to the aid of a woman who had been representing herself, but then contacted Statewide Legal Services to request help. The legal aid agency called Caisse, who found that the woman could not afford a lawyer, but was going up against a husband who was represented. “Generally, I get a call from Statewide Legal Services to take on a free case,” Caisse said. “If I do, I gladly accept it. … I try to keep one or two active pro bono files.”
Caisse has been a family law attorney for 25 years. He’d heard some attorneys say they got into family law because their own parents got divorced when they were young. Caisse had a different motivation: He needed to make a living.
After graduating from Western New England School of Law, jobs were hard to come by. He was volunteering in the Norwich Superior Court clerk’s office when he received a call from a Norwich matrimonial law firm. He accepted the offer, and stayed with the firm for 11 years. “I’m not so sure if I decided to get into it [family law] or if family law decided to get to me,” Caisse said.
In addition to representing individual parties pro bono, for 15 years Caisse has volunteered to do special master work, helping to mediate family law disputes. Another pro bono effort involves brown-bag lunches, at which he and other attorneys give talks on specialty topics to colleagues in Norwich Superior Court.
At a recent lunch, Caisse and two judges gave a talk on electronic evidence and how it can be used in family law cases.
Electronic evidence can be used to prove cheating claims, to show that someone is a bad parent, or for other reasons, Caisse said. Some people “post selfies on Facebook or Twitter that put them in compromising positions, confirming negative allegations against the individuals,” he said. “You also have the issue of texts and emails.”
Caisse has noticed more and more people of modest means trying to represent themselves in divorce cases over the last few years. He has also noticed that his pro bono clients are very concerned about where each dollar goes. “Most of the pro bono cases don’t have significant assets or significant income, but to the parties, whatever they have is significant,” Caisse said. “A $50 swing one way can make a significant difference.”
When people ask Caisse what makes a good family lawyer, he tells them it’s a combination of several things. “One is someone who knows and understands family law,” he said. “Two is someone who understands accounting to a certain degree.”
Beyond that is the ability to sympathize with a divorcing party and to create a comfort level so that a client will tell the lawyer the intimate details of their lives. “If you find all these things,” Caisse said, “you’ll find the right divorce lawyer.”•