Summer Interns reflect on learning about legal aid

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation hosted four interns this past summer to provide area students with work experience supporting civil legal aid.

MLAC staff was sorry to say goodbye to this smart and dedicated group of interns as they prepared to return to school. Each left us with a reflection about their experiences interning at MLAC this summer.

Leah Grannum, Suffolk University student studying Government
This summer, I had the pleasure of interning with the Communications department and the Equal Justice Coalition. I wrote articles for the website, assisted with fact sheets/website layouts, and helped during the budget process for FY20 by delivering letters to state legislators, updating excel sheet information, and gathering information about legal aid partners. One article I wrote explored past and present Bart Gordon fellows. My role was to research fellows who have done and continue to do tremendous work within civil legal aid. This project particularly interested me because I was able to reach out to different Bart Gordon fellows who continue their work today. There was never been a moment where I did not enjoy a project or task given to me. I used the time I was given as a learning experience. I learned skills in word choice when writing different articles, how to navigate excel sheets, and how state legislators play a role in the budget process.

Leah Grannum

Leah Grannum

I had the opportunity to attend MLAC’s first statewide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional development conference: Disrupting Cycles of Inequity: Expanding Racial Equity in the Legal Profession. At this conference I was able to dive deeper into microaggressions, poverty law, race equity, among many other great sessions. This conference was a great way to meet others who are involved in legal aid and play an integral role in legal assistance.

There are no words to express how grateful I am to my supervisors, along with the other interns at MLAC. I am very happy to say that my supervisors and others within the office served as mentors to my experience. I always gained helpful feedback from all of them on the projects I was working on. I appreciate how MLAC made me feel safe in my working environment as well as included.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office was a great aspect of my experience. Knowing that the organization promotes diversity inclusion within a work space environment and within legal aid is amazing. Identifying as a Black woman in the Law & Public Policy field means that as I continue in my education to a job, I will be serving the needs of people who I racially identify with. This is important to me, because I want to be able to serve the needs of marginalized communities who face racial discrimination. I know that I have a connection to policy work that directly affects low-income people of color, therefore, I want to continue to advocate for people who are systematically profiled and targeted.

Julia Ganley, Yale University student studying Sociology
While taking time off from earning a B.A. in Sociology, I had the privilege of interning in MLAC’s Data department. My primary project was a demographic study of low-income Massachusetts residents. Over the course of the summer, I developed a tool for estimating the distribution of seven demographic characteristics, including race, sex, and disability status. This tool expands MLAC’s ability to understand Massachusetts communities and serve them equitably. In its role supporting local legal aid organizations, MLAC can use demographic statistics to answer questions such as: How large is the Latinx population in our region? Is it fairly represented in our clientele? What percentage of our clients have disabilities? Do folks with disabilities face barriers to receiving our services?

Every day, my research impressed on me the magnitude and multidimensionality of inequality in our state. Data analysis is a powerful tool for documenting this inequality, identifying underserved communities, and measuring the impact of policies and programs. My internship gave me a concrete understanding of how to apply my skills to the issues that matter to me. I gained confidence using Excel to clean, analyze, and display data from a variety of sources. I also learned to navigate the U.S. Census Bureau’s database. Census data is available to the public; nonprofit, for-profit, and government organizations make use of it. My experience at MLAC equipped me to utilize this resource, and I look forward to doing so in my career.

Julia Ganley and Kimberly Alexander

MLAC interns Kimberly Alexander (left) and Julia Ganley

My supervisors introduced me to best practices for analyzing data and writing reports in a nonprofit environment. I noticed how Michael Raabe’s experience as a legal aid lawyer informed the practices of MLAC’s data department. He guided me in writing reports that are readable and reproducible for MLAC employees, and directly useful to providers of legal services. In every step of my research, I was challenged to consider: Who will read this report? What will they use it for? What do they want to know?

The MLAC Data Summit put my research in context. Representatives of more than 10 LAOs met to discuss a new data collection initiative. This initiative, in conjunction with the tool I developed, will enable MLAC to perform important demographic comparisons. It will also present challenges for the client-facing organizations collecting the data. I listened as they brainstormed ways to streamline data collection and discussed the nuances of asking for personal information in the client-advocate relationship. Sometimes folks struggle to fit their identities into the categories offered in demographic surveys. Advocates and intake workers will need training in how to ask these questions effectively. Attending the Data Summit was a highlight of my summer. It gave me insight into the relationship between MLAC and the LAOs it funds, and it complicated my thinking about how human identities are represented by data points.

As the second intern to work on this project, it was clear to me that MLAC values the diverse perspectives of its interns. My supervisors, Michael Raabe and Martha Rogers, supported me in exploring multiple approaches and asking critical questions. Folks at MLAC expressed genuine interest in my input, as well as commitment to stewarding the next generation of public servants. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this project and the movement to make real justice accessible to all Massachusetts residents.

Bria Gambrel, Simmons University student pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy and Gender and Cultural Studies

Bria Gambrell

Interning at the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation has been incredibly rewarding. During my tenure as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Intern, I was able to co-create a conference highlighting racial inequities in the legal profession titled Disrupting Cycles of Inequity: Expanding Racial Equity in the Legal Profession, organize and plan professional development opportunities for both MLAC and grantee programs, and curate content and resources for MLAC and our grantee programs to continue using for years to come.

I came into this role having cursory knowledge about legal aid—like most interns I would assume!—but during my time I’ve learned about the process of receiving legal aid, as well as what it takes to keep the engine of the entire system running smoothly. My experience has shaped my understanding of legal services and has opened my eyes to the possibilities of access to justice for underrepresented people through legal aid.

With this knowledge, I intend to build on my experience and continue doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the legal profession, and possibly attend law school to receive my JD.

Kimberly Alexander, Boston high school student participating in the Boston Bar Association Summer Jobs Program
My experience at MLAC has been quite enjoyable. I have been working on various administrative projects around the office. I have also been able to speak with different departments that I’m interested in to get insight and gain more knowledge about what their department entails.

My internship has taught me about being in a workplace with adults, instead of being in a classroom with other students. It has given me a change of environment. I enjoyed being out of my comfort zone, learning new things about the work environment, and gaining more work experience.

A highlight of my experience was that I had the opportunity to visit four legal aid organizations that MLAC funds to gain more insight and knowledge about legal aid and advocacy work. I visited organizations such as Political Asylum/ Immigration Representation, Volunteer Lawyers Project, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and Victim Rights Law Center.

This internship has affected my thinking about legal aid and my career plans. Since middle school, I have been passionate about history and civil rights. Legal Aid means more to me now and I truly have a better understanding of it. Regarding my career plans, I am interested in possibly having a career that focuses on advocating for those in need.

MLAC Announces $24M in state appropriation funding for FY20

BOSTON – After receiving $24 million in the Massachusetts budget for Fiscal Year 2020, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation has announced that it will award the funding in grants to 16 legal services organizations in FY20 – its largest-ever round of state appropriation funding for legal services organizations in Massachusetts.

“We are thrilled to provide greater financial support to the organizations providing civil legal aid to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents in times of crisis,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Legal assistance can have profoundly positive effects on people facing eviction, domestic violence, lack of access to benefits, and other serious legal issues. Increased funding means more people can receive help, which boosts individuals, families, and communities.”

The $24 million provided to MLAC in FY20 is an increase of $3 million over the previous year. MLAC is the largest funding source of civil legal in the Commonwealth.

The legal aid organizations that receive funding from MLAC provide critical civil legal aid to struggling people who otherwise would not have legal representation in serious civil legal matters. In most instances, people qualify for civil legal aid if their annual income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,188 for a family of four.

The legal aid organizations receiving MLAC funding in FY20 include regional legal aid organizations — which provide advice and representation to low-income people facing civil legal issues related to housing, health care, public benefits, immigration, domestic violence, and other serious legal issues — and statewide legal aid organizations that specialize in certain areas of law and serve clients statewide. The organizations receiving funding are:

Regional legal aid organizations:
Community Legal Aid, with offices in Fitchburg, Northampton, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester
De Novo Center for Justice and Healing, based in Cambridge
Greater Boston Legal Services, with offices in Boston and Cambridge
MetroWest Legal Services, based in Framingham
Northeast Legal Aid, with offices in Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn
South Coastal Counties Legal Services, with offices in Brockton, Fall River, Hyannis, and New Bedford

Statewide legal aid organizations:
Center for Law and Education, based in Boston
Center for Public Representation, based in Newton
Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, based in Lynn
Disability Law Center, based in Boston
Massachusetts Advocates for Children, based in Boston
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, based in Boston
National Consumer Law Center, based in Boston
Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project (PAIR), based in Boston
Prisoners’ Legal Services, based in Boston
Veterans Legal Services, based in Boston

About MLAC
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts. It was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. For more information, please visit:

MLRI Attorney Vicky Pulos Explains ‘Public Charge’ Rule Change, Impact on Massachusetts

The Trump administration instituted a recent immigration rule change, one that’s a year in the making. This rule, on public charge, links immigrants’ future legal status to their use of public benefits: food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.

The change, currently scheduled for Oct. 15, would impact immigrants who already live here and are seeking green cards, as well as new immigrants trying to enter the United States.

New factors “will make it much harder for working-class immigrants to get a green card,” said Vicky Pulos, senior staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “People have described this as substituting a wealth test for a public charge test.” Listen to the complete interview with WBUR.

MLAC welcomes Jeffrey Catalano and April English to Board of Directors

BOSTON — The board of directors of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is welcoming two new members: Jeffrey Catalano, partner at the Boston law firm Todd & Weld LLP, and April English, Chief of Organization Development & Diversity at the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General (“AGO”). Catalano and English were appointed to the MLAC board by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Jeff Catalano

Jeffrey Catalano

Catalano brings to the board a longstanding commitment to public interest law and the value of civil legal aid. He has served in numerous leadership positions at the Massachusetts Bar Association and as a pro bono attorney for Massachusetts Advocates for Children (an MLAC-funded organization), and currently he serves as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

In addition to her record of public service at the AGO, English brings expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion to help advance MLAC’s leadership in promoting DEI in civil legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth.

April English

April English

“Jeffrey and April bring valuable experience and wisdom to the MLAC board – qualities that will benefit people in need of civil legal aid to address crises in housing, family, public benefits, and other urgent issues,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “I’m glad they are willing to be so generous with their time and expertise to help some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable people.”

Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board, said she was looking forward to working with Catalano and English. “Jeffrey and April will enable us to continue the important work of the Board, as they join us upon the retirement of two talented board members whose service to MLAC has come to a close. Guillermo Gonzalez and Rahsaan Hall have provided valuable guidance and knowledge to MLAC. I will miss them both and am profoundly grateful for their service to MLAC and to civil legal aid,” she said.

Gonzalez, a psychiatrist in private practice, who joined the board in 2014, served as medical director of the Center for Health and Human Services, Inc., in New Bedford. Hall is the director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. He has served on the MLAC board since 2009 and preceded Benner Browne as chair of the MLAC board.

About MLAC
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, funding nonprofit legal aid organizations that help low-income people facing serious legal issues related to housing, domestic violence and family law, employment, disability, health care, public benefits, consumer protection, immigration, education, and elder law.

Advocates wary of tighter immigration rules

State leaders and immigration advocates are criticizing new federal rules that will require immigrants to show they won’t be a burden on taxpayers, saying the regulations will hurt families seeking health care, housing and other public programs.
The rules, which will be released on Wednesday and go into effect Oct. 15, change how the federal government determines if an immigrant is likely to need public assistance such as food stamps, housing and Medicaid, ostensibly making it more difficult for low-income immigrants to secure permanent residency status or temporary visas…Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said the rule change “will punish low-income, low-wage working immigrants seeking permanent residence in the U.S for accessing assistance for basic human needs.” “This subverts the nation’s long-standing immigration laws and family unification policy, because new immigrants will not be able to meet this radical new income test,” she said.
Read more in the Gloucester Daily Times

Nina Harrison awarded MLAC’s Racial Justice Fellowship

Fellow will help formerly incarcerated individuals in Central, Western Mass., reenter society

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation has awarded its prestigious Racial Justice Fellowship to Nina Harrison. The two-year fellowship will support Harrison’s work assisting people in Central and Western Massachusetts who have been released from incarceration and are working to become reintegrated into society.

Harrison will be based at Community Legal Aid in Worcester starting in August. A 2013 graduate of Boston College Law School, she has worked as a staff attorney at the Responsible Parent Project of Rhode Island Legal Services and a legislative assistant to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. She was also an administrative law clerk for the Hon. O. Rogeriee Thompson on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. She will focus her work at Community Legal Aid on helping ex-offenders seal their criminal records and overcome barriers to housing, employment, and family stability.

“Nina’s work exemplifies the spirit of the Racial Justice Fellowship, which seeks to reduce obstacles to justice for the most marginalized people,” said Lynne M. Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Helping formerly incarcerated people reenter society and attain steady work and safe housing is an essential first step in their ability to live lawfully and with dignity. I admire Nina’s commitment to working with this underserved population, and I’m gratified that MLAC can fund this important work through the Racial Justice Fellowship.”

Jonathan Mannina, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid, said, “This Fellowship will enable us to help formerly incarcerated residents of Central and Western Massachusetts lead safe, stable, and productive lives. Re-entering society after being away for years is daunting. Recently released ex-offenders face a number of civil legal problems, many of which are linked directly to their criminal records. Our ability to effectively address these problems goes to the very core of the American belief in offering second chances. We are thrilled that Nina is joining us to do this critically important work.”

MLAC created the Racial Justice Fellowship in 2006 to expand the reach of legal aid to communities that have difficulty gaining equal access to the justice system due to linguistic or cultural barriers. The goal of the fellowship is to use systemic advocacy and other strategies to address pervasive problems of racial injustice, given the disproportionately high rate of poverty among communities of color and the unmet legal needs of these communities. The Racial Justice Fellowship is a two-year position and is available to MLAC-funded and Legal Services Corporation-funded legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts. It was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice, and representation.

MLAC Celebrates Advocate and GBLS Board Member Rita Dixon

Friends, family, and colleagues gathered in West Roxbury July 28 to celebrate the 90th birthday of Rita Dixon, a member of the board of directors of Greater Boston Legal Services and a longtime community advocate.

Rita Dixon

Rita Dixon, center, is honored by Pat Swansey, right, and GBLS board member Catherine Harris.

In recognition of her work and years of service, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Program Director Pat Swansey presented Dixon with a certificate thanking her for “her tireless pursuit of justice for low-income people.”

Dixon has served on the GBLS board since 2002. Speakers noted that, as a board member who had been eligible to receive civil legal aid, Dixon had a vital perspective that helped guide the organization’s work and ensure that the needs of legal aid clients were understood.

Dixon worked as nurse in the late 1960s and early 1970s before going back to school to become a social worker. She later served as a mediator in Dorchester Municipal Court. Still advocating at age 90, Dixon remains involved in many organizations and advisory boards to assist people in the community.

“We can say that MLAC honors her with this recognition, but really it was an honor for me,” said Swansey. “She is an inspiring advocate.”

MLAC conference explores expanding racial equity in legal aid

Nearly 200 legal aid lawyers and staff gathered in Boston to learn and share strategies for increasing racial equality in legal aid organizations and the communities they serve. The day-long conference, “Disrupting Cycles of Inequity,” included national experts on implicit bias and racial equity and advocates for immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.

“These topics are challenging, but essential to the work we do in civil legal aid,” said Tonysha Taylor, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Taylor, who created the July conference, invited people to “lean into the discomfort” of these difficult conversations to learn ways to increase equity in their workplaces and in society as a whole.

Rachel Godsil

Keynote speaker Rachel Godsil: “Peer-to-peer contact is the only way to reduce implicit bias.”

Rachel Godsil, director of research and cofounder of the Perception Institute and a professor at Rutgers Law School, delivered the day’s keynote address on implicit bias – unconscious judgments an individual makes that are linked to each person’s upbringing and social environment. These background thoughts, she said, affect people’s decision-making and day-to-day interactions in ways that may be at odds with their conscious values. She offered strategies people can use to begin to override their subconscious thoughts to create better relationships and to promote excellence in legal offices and representation.

“Peer-to-peer contact is the only way to reduce implicit bias,” Godsil said. However, people can also work to reduce and override their biases to break the links between unconscious thoughts and behavior, she said.

Building on Godsil’s presentation, New York civil rights lawyer Milo Primeaux led a workshop on how to build workplaces that welcome people’s many identities into the office. A white, transgender man, Primeaux spoke of the different treatment he has received when people perceive him as “a white dude with a beard and a law degree” compared to when he is introduced as a queer transgender person. When people – and whole organizations – work to challenge their implicit biases and their beliefs, they can begin to create change, embrace diversity, and move toward inclusion, he said. “Inclusion is activated diversity. It puts diversity to work in a way that is innovative and beautiful.”

Tonysha Taylor, Bria Gambrell, Lynne Parker

Tonysha Taylor, director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Bria Gambrell, DEI intern, and Lynne Parker, executive director, all of MLAC

The conference took place on the campus of Simmons University in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Two Simmons administrators led a workshop about how people can be allies and accomplices in creating diverse and inclusive organizations. Sasha Goodfriend is Simmons’ Assistant Director of Communications & Public Affairs, as well as president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization of Women and Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ youth. She shared the story of Mass NOW’s decision to recreate its board of directors to replace what had been an overwhelming white board of older women with a mixed race, multi-age board that also included representatives from the LGBTQ community.

Debra Pérez, Senior Vice President of Organizational Culture, Inclusion & Equity at Simmons, recounted how Simmons has changed its hiring practices to attract and retain more staff and faculty of color. She advised that employees at every level of an organization can seek to have an impact on an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, recommending people ask themselves, “What is within my authority to change?”

Sarang Sekhavat, federal policy director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, led a discussion about advocating for immigrant communities and navigating changing federal immigration policy. Sekhavat highlighted the growing challenges that low-income immigrants face—including threats of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests, misconceptions surrounding public benefits, and the potential loss of housing because of new Department of Housing and Urban Development policy. Additionally, Sekhavat said that because the Trump Administration has deemed all undocumented immigrants “removable” by ICE, people who apply for legal permanent resident status run the risk of deportation if they are denied. One silver lining for these communities is that the administration has not provided guidance to local agents on how to proceed with new policies, which has limited their impact, Sekhavat said.

Kimberly Merchant

Kimberly Merchant: “Everyone has some leadership within them.”

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s workshop, Internal Organizational Alignment for Race Equity, focused on creating racial justice within organizations that promote it externally. Kimberly Merchant, the Center’s Racial Justice Institute director, challenged people to do more than just be aware of diversity issues. Instead, they should be competent in discussing racial justice and bold enough to advocate for equity—especially when it’s difficult. “Everyone has some leadership within them,” said Merchant.

Ellen Hemley, the Center’s vice president of advocate resources and training, shared the experience of the Shriver Center staff; their history of overlooking racial inequity within the organization; and their long, intentional process of creating change. She detailed a number of strategies and tools for addressing internal issues, including a frank self-assessment of an organization’s racial equity.

Cheryl Sharp of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and Robyn Gibson of YW Boston each led workshops on the challenges of pursuing equity in the workplace—specifically the legal profession. Sharp’s workshop addressed the unique challenges that intersectionality poses for women of color as they face prejudice in the courtroom and navigate relationships with co-workers and supervisors in white, male-dominated workplaces. Gibson focused on racial bias, and identified different ways race affects a work environment. By asking participants to reflect on their own identities and positions of privilege, Gibson illustrated that everyone has a stake in pursuing racial equity. We are “doing the work for our own liberation,” said Gibson.

Top photo: Joanna Allison, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers Project, and Jacquelynne Bowman, executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services.

Photos by Elbert John.

At the Forefront of Social Justice

Current and former Bart Gordon Fellows reflect on how the program shaped their careers and helped deliver civil legal aid to marginalized Massachusetts communities.

In 1991, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation created a fellowship program to increase legal assistance in communities where linguistic and cultural backgrounds have been barriers to the delivery of legal aid. The fellowship was renamed in 1995 to honor Bart J. Gordon, a Springfield attorney and founding member of the MLAC Board of Directors who passed away that year. The fellowship, which rotates among the Massachusetts legal aid organizations that receive funding from MLAC, provides financial support to new attorneys who seek to address these barriers to civil legal aid. One new Gordon Fellow is funded each year for a one-year term with an option to renew for a second year.

Leah Grannum reached out to current and former fellows to learn about their experiences in the fellowship, their careers since, and their advice for young lawyers.

“The fellowship was instrumental in my discovering a passion for community lawyering and public interest work.”

Sherley Cruz

Then: Bart Gordon Fellow at Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children, 2005-2007
Now: Assistant Professor, Advocacy Clinic, University of Tennessee College of Law

I had two fellowships. Originally, I worked at Massachusetts Advocates for Children on a community education project for Latino parents with special needs children. We created an eight-week bilingual educational program for parents to learn how the special education system in Boston works and how to advocate for their children. I finished my Bart Gordon Fellowship at Greater Boston Legal Services with the Employment Law Unit, where I focused on racial justice and community lawyering with low-wage immigrant workers.

The fellowship was instrumental in my discovering a passion for community lawyering and public interest work. It allowed me the opportunity to work with elite legal services programs to conduct racial justice work on behalf of marginalized and exploited communities.

Although my career has taken many different paths, I have continued my commitment to racial justice lawyering. I was fortunate to be able to continue working at GBLS for several years, where I gained an expertise in working with low-wage immigrant workers and community/grassroots organizations. I then worked with the Massachusetts Attorney General Office’s Wage and Hour Division. Eventually, I transitioned to clinical teaching, where I have supervised students on wage theft, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, unemployment, and other issues related to wage gaps and racial disparities.

Sherley Cruz

Sherley Cruz, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee College of Law

My public interest work has been recognized by being awarded the Lawyers Weekly Up and Coming Lawyer Award and the National Law Journal Boston Rising Star. I am most proud of my reputation in the legal community as a community lawyer who is dedicated to racial and social justice issues and working with the low-wage immigrant community. I never imagined becoming a clinical law professor. The Bart Gordon Fellowship paved the way for the experiences and opportunities that have allowed me to become a clinical law professor.

The fellowship work at MAC was critically important. There are very few bilingual resources for parents of children with special needs to navigate the Boston Public School system. The program empowered and educated parents to fight for their children’s educational needs and allowed them to gain a voice in the process. Similarly, the low-wage immigrant worker work successfully provided services to communities that are routinely exploited and underserved. Due to funding restrictions and lack of resources, I provided greatly needed legal services to immigrant workers, worker centers, and other community grassroots agencies. We built networks and collaborations that continue to thrive and grow on the foundation of the work established through my Bart Gordon Fellowship.

I am most passionate about supporting and empowering low-wage immigrant workers, particularly undocumented workers. As an immigrant myself, I understand and have seen firsthand the struggles that my family members have faced due to limited English proficiency, lack of knowledge, and bad employers. Protecting, preserving, and creating fair, respectful, and well-paying workplaces is fundamental to an individual’s wellbeing, health, and family. When the workplace is troublesome, it negatively impacts all aspects of a worker’s life. The clients that I serve are hard-working, innovative, compassionate individuals who are often repeatedly exploited, harassed, injured, and mistreated at work. It is an honor to be able to add dignity and respect to their workplace and work experiences.

During my fellowship I was able to grow and vastly improve my skills in the areas like community lawyering, community organizing, project development, and public relations. Working with worker centers and other community groups allowed me to develop many “non-traditional” lawyering skills. I learned how to lead from behind the stage to support organizing and outreach campaign efforts. I also learned how to be client centered and find solutions that meet community needs, which often times did not involve traditional litigation. Instead, I worked with community groups to develop media campaigns, statewide coalitions, legislative campaigns, and other community-organizing tools.

“The fellowship set me on a career path within Legal Services that continues today.”

Lyonel Jean-Pierre Jr.

Then: Bart Gordon Fellow at Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services (now Prisoners’ Legal Services), 2005-2007
Now: Clinical Instructor, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Harvard Law School

For a few years I entered private practice only to realize that my passion for legal services work could not be ignored. The fellowship allowed me to work for an organization–Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services–that was truly client-centered and modeled how I imagine lawyering should work. The primary challenge with any fellowship is uncertainty. When the fellowship ended there was no guarantee that the legal services career trajectory would continue. For me, I feel that I was lucky when a position opened up with the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts’s Family Law Unit at the end of my fellowship.

Another obstacle was–and still is–facing the lack of diversity within the legal profession throughout Massachusetts. The courthouses and court rooms (specifically as it applies to the management, operation, and judiciary components of the court) are mostly staffed by white men and women. For young, less experienced attorneys the visual is jarring and can be an uncomfortable reality. Overcoming fear and doubt, caused by external pressures and perception, can take time and add obstacles towards becoming a successful advocate.

Lyonel Jean-Pierre Jr.

Lyonel Jean-Pierre Jr., Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School

During my fellowship, every day was a fight with the department of corrections for access to our clients. For the most part, we were able to gain the space and time needed to assess our client’s needs and advocate for them. On occasion, we faced stiff resistance and had to threaten or use legal action, but ultimately we were successful.

I am most passionate about accessibility to the court and creating an equal playing field. Litigants with disposable funds or who are accused of committing a serious crime should not be the only ones afforded access to counsel. The legal system is complicated, statutes and case law are undecipherable to individuals with no legal training, and the consequences for losing a case can be high and in some cases irreparable. Access to an attorney is critical.

The fellowship helped me to develop better interviewing skills as well as a greater tolerance for zealously advocating for clients whose viewpoints and experiences do not align with mine. In several cases I had to put my personal insights and beliefs aside while fighting for better medical care, better confinement conditions, and for fairer disciplinary hearings for individuals who freely admitted to the terrible things that lead to their confinement. I also credit the fellowship with helping me pass the bar. Not only was I allowed the time to study and take the exam but I learned litigation skills and theory in a practical setting that helped me better understand and answer several questions on the bar exam, specifically, questions regarding civil procedure, evidence, and sanctions for noncompliance.

“Poverty law is my passion.”

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies

Then: Bart Gordon Fellow at South Coastal Counties Legal Services, 2008-2010
Now: Managing Attorney of Community Legal Aid’s Worcester and Fitchburg Offices

Through the fellowship I was able to develop the expertise and passion to address the work of legal services in a holistic way and through a racial equity lens. It set the foundation for how I have approached every case, project, and activity as an advocate and now as a manager. I developed a strategic focus on the effects of structural racism (racialization) on our clients and our work, provided leadership on diversity issues and advocated for racial equity. Legal areas of practice included fair housing rights, landlord/tenant law, post-foreclosure evictions, homelessness prevention and domestic relations issues.

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Managing Attorney, Community Legal Aid, Worcester and Fitchburg Offices

Some challenges have been tackling racial equity issues in the midst of dealing with overall poverty issues and grant deliverables. Some areas of success have been: the opportunity to learn multiple legal areas; to make an impact system-wide; to experience great professional growth from the Bart Gordon Fellowship; and to lead staff attorneys through medical-legal partnerships and as a managing attorney. My work as a fellow allowed my organization to consider and explore systemic and structural barriers our clients faced. Some of the conversations were challenging and not always easy, but I think our client communities have benefitted from the courage to explore those issues even when they were hard.

The ability to be a part of the lives of the most vulnerable people, holding power players accountable, and advocating for access to justice for all is a dream come true. Right out of law school, I was tasked with tackling structural racism and diversity issues and put in the position to facilitate trainings, conversations and policy changes.

“I believe that we need to welcome immigrants into our communities.”

Mario N. Paredes

Now: Bart Gordon Fellow at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Prisoners’ Legal Services
Start Date: September 2019

The project I will undertake will aim to improve conditions in detention facilities and address multiple issues faced by detained immigrants, including discrimination, placement in solitary confinement, language access needs, medical and mental health care, food and sanitation, and access to programming and services. The ultimate goal is to break down some of the barriers faced by immigrant detainees in accessing services that they desperately need. This will be done using various strategies: 1) An investigatory phase to assess the conditions of detention in our commonwealth’s immigrant detention units in Bristol, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Franklin Counties; 2) Developing advocacy materials and self-help materials so that immigrant detainees can be empowered to advocate on their own behalf to improve conditions; and 3) engaging in various forms of advocacy, including systemic and administrative advocacy, legislative advocacy and litigation to address issues faced by immigrant detainees. This detention condition work will also be complemented by work focusing on detainee re-detention prevention and post-release support.

Although I have not officially begun the fellowship, I have already received plenty of phone calls and emails from advocates who are fighting to support immigrants who are detained in Massachusetts. There is a lot of interest in collaborating and making sure that the immigrant detainee population is not forgotten or neglected. I look forward to continuing those conversations and building strength within the legal advocacy community.

Mario N. Paredes

Mario N. Paredes, 2019 Bart Gordon Fellow

I am extremely passionate about fighting to support and empower marginalized communities that often get neglected because of the stigma that society attaches to them. I have many family members and friends who have been both directly and indirectly impacted by the immigration system. In a country that depends so much on the contribution of immigrants, I strongly believe that we need to welcome them into our communities rather than locking them up and making them out to be our enemies.

I am grateful that the fellowship will give me an opportunity to work with, learn from, and contribute to two very well-respected organizations that are at the forefront of the fight for social justice in Massachusetts. I will also get the rare opportunity to be supervised and mentored by two amazing leaders, both of whom are Latina lawyers, as I engage in this work. The Director of PLS, Elizabeth Matos, and Iris Gomez, a nationally renowned immigration attorney at MLRI, will be supervising my work.

Have an ‘open heart and open mind’

The Bart Gordon fellows shared a range of advice for law students and new lawyers.

“Be open to possibilities,” Sherley Cruz said. “You may gain the most from opportunities that may not have been part of your plan. The skills you learn will be transferable in almost any environment. The communities you will work with are dynamic, resilient, and powerful. Do not underestimate the power of a community united for the common good. Make connections, and build networks that will support you throughout your legal career.”

“My advice is to be your best self and to become the best lawyer possible,” said Lyonel Jean-Pierre Jr. “When you step into the courtroom you are a lawyer regardless of who your client is or how much money they have. Don’t be defined by ‘legal aid,’ ‘age,’ or ‘skin color,’ but rather by the quality of your work and your passion for achieving justice for your client. The rules and expectations of the legal profession are the same for you as they are for any other lawyer.”

“My advice to potential Bart Gordon Fellows (and to myself) is to engage in the work with an open heart and an open mind,” said Mario Paredes. “We are living in tough times, and it is important that we are doing this work for the right reasons and with the right intentions. I want to learn as much as I can during the Fellowship and make immediate contributions to the legal aid community.”

“I am forever grateful to have been a Bart Gordon Fellow,” Cruz said. “As a new attorney, it gave me the opportunity to work on critical racial and social justice skills. It sparked a desire to continue to fight for access to justice and provided me with skills and a network of legal colleagues that have been invaluable. I would not have been where I am without the support and guidance of Patricia Swansey, who was managing the Bart Gordon Fellow at the time. “Pat” has become a life-long mentor and champion of my work and career. I cannot thank her enough for the sincere care and support that she provided to me from day one and continues to provide to me as I grow and develop my career path.”

AmeriCorps Legal Advocates aid in housing and veterans’ cases

AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts

By Leah Grannum
Photo credit: Sheridan Kahmann

AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts honored 36 graduates of its legal services program with an end-of-year celebration at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in July.

Each year AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts places college and law school graduates in legal services organizations throughout Massachusetts. ALA members have opportunities to attend trainings and events as a group. Members serve at partner sites located across the state, where they’re supervised by legal professionals.

Lynne Parker

MLAC executive director Lynne Parker addresses AmeriCorps graduates. Photo credit: Sheridan Kahmann

This year, their contributions to legal services in Massachusetts were extensive. They completed 4,128 intakes; opened and closed 4,542 cases (of which 42 percent were housing); engaged in 1,521 full representation cases; provided housing services to 2,629 individuals; assisted 1,220 individuals to transition into or maintain healthy, safe and affordable housing; assisted 121 veterans; and engaged 1,005 non-AmeriCorps volunteers to assist with 858 additional legal cases.

Speaking to the graduates, Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation said, “The assistance you provided undoubtedly impacted people’s lives in small ways and large ways and in ways that you might not have even imagined. One of the many great results of having served as an AmeriCorps Legal Advocate is that not only will you leave knowing you’ve made a real difference in people’s lives, but you will also be forever connected to the class of advocates you served with this year.”

Amy Copperman

Amy Copperman, Program Director of ALA-Massachusetts. Photo credit: Sheridan Kahmann

South Coastal Counties Legal Services manages the day-to-day operation of the program in Brockton. Amy Copperman serves as the Program Director for ALA-Massachusetts. Copperman said, “It is my privilege and pleasure to have worked closely with this extraordinary group of AmeriCorps service members. I admire their energy and openness, and their willingness to sacrifice a year to serve our clients and to serve our country.”