The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth established MLAC in 1983 to ensure that low-income people facing critical non-criminal legal issues would have access to legal information, advice, and representation. Our mission is to improve legal aid in Massachusetts through collaboration with the legal services community, the public, the bar, and the legislature.
What We Do
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation provides funding and support to civil legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth.
Funding. MLAC is the largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income individuals in the Commonwealth. MLAC grants the money to nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance at no cost to low-income residents of Massachusetts. For more information on the organizations MLAC funds and how to apply for funding, please visit our funding pages.
MLAC provides several kinds of grants. General Support includes unrestricted funds to legal aid organizations, as well as funding for:
- Disability Benefits Project
- Domestic Violence Legal Assistance Project
- Medicare Advocacy Project
Other Funds, include grants for these projects:
- Civil Legal Aid to Victims of Crime
- COVID Eviction Legal Help Project
- Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund
- Massachusetts Immigration Legal Assistance Fund
Support. MLAC strengthens legal aid in Massachusetts in several ways:
- The Central Technology Project provides technology services and support to MLAC-funded organizations to help them deliver legal aid effectively and efficiently.
- Data and Policy Analysis measures and analyzes the scope and impact of legal aid across a wide variety of factors, including: number of clients and cases, types of cases, and demographics.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion works to create a diverse, representative and collaborative environment within legal services to provide accessible, welcoming, and culturally competent services to clients of all backgrounds and their communities.
- The Equal Justice Coalition advocates for state funding for civil legal aid. It is a partnership of MLAC, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.
- Fellowships fund the work of legal aid attorneys who seek to expand the delivery of legal services in communities traditionally underserved by legal aid. MLAC funds two fellowships: The Bart Gordon Fellowship and The Racial Justice Fellowship.
MLAC receives revenue from several sources:
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts appropriates money in its state budget to MLAC, which MLAC distributes to qualified civil legal aid organizations. In Fiscal Year 2021, the state appropriation is $29 million.
- MLAC receives 67 percent of the revenue generated by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. Revenue is generated through the interest of modest or short term bank accounts that attorneys use to manage their client’s money temporarily.
- MLAC receives grants from government agencies and private foundations seeking to fund special initiatives in response to emerging crises. For example, MLAC received grants for initiatives to provide legal defense to homeowners in the midst of the foreclosure crisis, legal services to immigrants facing deportation, and to address the civil legal needs of victims of crime.
About Civil Legal Aid
Unlike in criminal cases, low-income people facing civil legal problems – involving issues such as child custody, domestic violence, housing, health care, employment, government benefits and elder issues – do not have a right to a lawyer. They rely on legal aid organizations; this is often the only way their basic human needs for health, safety, and housing can be protected.
People with an income at or below 125% of the federal poverty level are eligible for civil legal aid. According to 2022 federal poverty guidelines, that means annual income at or below $34,688 for a family of four.
Inside a Legal Aid Organization
The Central West Justice Center provides free legal help to low-income and elderly residents of central and western Massachusetts. It’s a subsidiary of Community Legal Aid, one of many legal aid organizations that MLAC funds. CWJC’s advocates focus on cases involving humanitarian-based immigration law, employment rights, housing and homelessness issues, and access to public benefits. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly produced this video in recognition of Central West Justice Center receiving the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Excellence in Legal Services.
MLAC asks the legislature to provide $41 million for civil legal aid in the FY23 state budget through line item 0321-1600.
Civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts provide legal assistance to low-income individuals and families in a variety of cases, including housing, employment, education, health care, and family law, among others. Below are a series of fact sheets that detail the types of cases closed in each issue area, as well as ways civil legal aid helps specific groups of clients.
- Family Law and Domestic Violence
- Health Care
- Income Maintenance
- Immigrants and Refugees
- Older Adults
My legal aid attorney was heaven-sent.