Boston Bar Foundation announces grant to Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission for civil legal aid directory

The Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) announced on Thursday that it will grant $12,000 in special funding for the purpose of creating a civil legal aid directory to serve the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The donation was made to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), acting for the benefit of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (ATJC).

The directory will inform and educate private foundations and businesses about philanthropic opportunities to support legal aid programs by enabling potential donors to quickly and easily find where to make donations to legal services that align with their ideals and goals.

“The Boston Bar Foundation is thrilled to provide funding for this project, which supports the ecosystem of legal aid providers throughout the Commonwealth,” remarked BBF President Russell Beck. “In addition to our portfolio of direct legal services granting, the BBF’s support of this new resource will enable organizations working directly in the community to ensure equal access to civil justice.”

“The civil legal aid directory is a powerful tool to help funders achieve their goals in areas such as family preservation, housing, education, immigration, racial equity, and further access to justice for those unable to afford an attorney,” said Marijane Benner Browne, co-chair of the Massachusetts ATJC. “The civil legal aid directory will also serve as a valuable resource to those seeking legal assistance, as well as researchers.”

Currently, information about more than 70 organizations funded by the BBF, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and MLAC has been accumulated. According to John Kenneth Felter, member of the Massachusetts ATJC Revenue Enhancement Committee, the directory “will contain key information about each organization, including, among other things: contact information, types of legal services provided, mission statement, geographic service area, number of attorneys and legal assistants, numbers and types of matters opened and closed, and basic financial information.”

“Our hope is that many funders across the state will learn about the civil legal aid directory, gain a better understanding of the critical and essential work being done by civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, and fund organizations that align with their mission and goals,” said MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the ATJC seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs. Among other activities, the ATJC coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. MLAC—the largest funder of legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth—provides funding, leadership, and a variety of supports to statewide and regional legal aid organizations across Massachusetts which serve low-income people with civil legal problems.

“The mission of the Commission and the BBF go hand in hand, as both strive to facilitate the development and implementation of innovative strategies aimed at increasing access to justice for those unable to afford legal counsel and expanding access to legal services,” said Benner Brown.

The BBF serves as the charitable affiliate of the Boston Bar Association. The Foundation helps serve the community by funding and promoting innovation in the delivery of legal services; facilitating access to legal counsel in underserved communities; and supporting the public service projects and pro bono work of the Boston Bar members.

MLAC applauds $41M for civil legal aid in FY23 Final Budget

$6 million increase will address heightened need for legal services due to COVID-19

BOSTON, July 28, 2022 – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the FY23 Budget of the Commonwealth, including $41 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY22, and the amount requested by MLAC to fund civil legal aid organizations across the state.

“We want to express our deepest gratitude to Governor Baker and the legislature for their continued commitment to increasing access to justice through civil legal aid funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Though we look toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still thousands of low-income residents across the Commonwealth facing serious non-criminal legal problems that threaten their health, safety, and financial stability. For these residents, access to civil legal aid is essential to helping them preserve their housing, income, benefits, and education.”

People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level—$34,688 for a family of four in 2022—are eligible for civil legal aid.

Parker also thanked the members of the House and Senate for their support for this increase, noting that the legislature has continually demonstrated a deep commitment to expanding access to justice for their constituents and other residents across the Commonwealth.

Parker recognized the ongoing civil legal aid advocacy of the Equal Justice Coalition, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC urges Governor Baker to approve Conference Committee FY23 Budget

Governor Baker has 10 days to sign or veto budget

BOSTON, July 20, 2022 – The FY23 Budget Conference Committee released its FY23 Budget Report on July 17 that includes $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600, which is the amount requested by MLAC to fund civil legal aid organizations across the state. Governor Baker has 10 days following the release of the Conference Committee Budget to sign or veto portions of the final version.  

“We are enormously grateful that the House of Representatives and the Senate included $41 million in the FY23 Budget, a $6 million increase for civil legal aid. We urge Governor Baker to approve this MLAC funding when he signs the budget,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “The $41 million for civil legal aid is what MLAC requested and is supported by the House and Senate. This increase will go a long way toward ensuring that more low-income residents have access to legal information, advice, and representation on civil matters as they face continuing hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Parker noted that the areas of unemployment compensation, housing, income supports and education saw a sharp increase in demand for legal services during the pandemic. People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line—$34,688 for a family of four in 2022—are eligible for this civil legal aid.

Parker thanked the six-person Conference Committee, as well as House and Senate leadership, for their efforts to increase access to justice. “Civil legal aid is an essential service that protects the lives and livelihoods of so many in our Commonwealth. With an additional $6 million in FY23, legal aid organizations will be able to improve their organizational capacity to respond to emerging legal needs of our residents and upgrade necessary technology for clients and staff. We are now counting on Governor Baker to support this increase when he signs the FY23 Budget.”

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC Commends Senate Approval of Additional $1M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, May 26, 2022 – Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the Senate budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the civil legal aid organizations it funds, I would like to express my gratitude to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this much-needed increase,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “We also thank Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge for their ongoing leadership and support of critical funding for civil legal aid and for championing the amendment adding $1 million in funding for civil legal aid, and the 22 other senators who co-sponsored it.”

“By approving this budget amendment, the Senate has recognized the heightened need for civil legal aid across the Commonwealth due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal aid attorneys provide vital services to low-income people, assisting with serious civil legal issues such as unemployment compensation, housing, income supports and education,” Parker said. “While the pandemic has widened existing inequities that low-income people face, civil legal aid organizations have rapidly innovated to address the rise in cases. It is important that organizations have additional resources to continue addressing COVID-19’s lasting impacts.”

In FY21, MLAC-funded civil legal aid organizations assisted 92,000 Massachusetts residents. Due to recent funding increases, civil legal aid organizations have reduced the percentage of eligible people turned away to 57 percent, down from 64 percent five years ago.

“Increasing access to civil legal aid is a public good, and we all must advocate for a more expansive vision of legal aid,” Majority Leader Creem said.

“I am very proud of what the Legislature has done over the past few years,” Chair Eldridge said. “Low-income people are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, housing insecurity, inflation and other threats to stability that often require civil legal assistance. I’m extremely proud of the legal aid agencies that have stepped up.”

MLAC Backs Senate Budget Amendment to Increase Civil Legal Aid Funding

BOSTON, May 10, 2022 – Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge have filed an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding by $1 million, for total funding of $41 million in the Senate budget.

Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including $40 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. While this amount represents a $5 million increase over FY22, it is not the $41 million recommended by MLAC.

“Civil legal aid is an integral part of the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and we are grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “With the heightened demand for legal services in mind, as a result of the ongoing pandemic and its disproportionate impact on low-income people, we urge senators to support the amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Judiciary Chair James Eldridge, which would add an additional $1 million in funding and help more people.” People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line —$34,688 per year for a family of four—are eligible for civil legal aid.

Parker said that civil legal aid cases are expected to rise by nearly 20 percent by the end of FY22, compared to last year. “Massachusetts legal aid organizations are facing a financial and workforce strain as they are seeing increased caseloads, especially in the areas of unemployment insurance, housing, consumer and finance, immigration, and education. Strengthening organizations’ capacity will allow them to assist more low-income residents in accessing their most basic needs. With increased funding, organizations will be able to hire more attorneys and critical staff, raise attorney salaries to similar levels as other public sector attorney jobs, and upgrade technology to better meet the needs of clients and staff,” Parker said.

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

House Approves Additional $1.5M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, April 27, 2022 – On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1.5 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the House budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the Massachusetts legal aid organizations it funds, which have assisted low-income people facing serious civil legal issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are extremely grateful for this increase in funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “We thank Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership and strong support of increased funding for MLAC and civil legal services. We are immensely grateful to Division Leader Ruth Balser and House Judiciary Chair Michael Day for championing the amendment adding $1.5 million in funding for civil legal aid, and we thank the other 77 representatives who co-sponsored it.”

“Bolstering legal aid organizations’ capacity to assist vulnerable people in areas including housing, unemployment insurance and access to health care comes at a critical time during the Commonwealth’s pandemic recovery,” Parker said. “With this increase in funding, the House has recognized the important role civil legal aid plays in protecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Massachusetts residents.”

“I am proud of the House for recognizing the essential work done by MLAC to make sure that low-income residents of Massachusetts have legal representation in the courts,” said Balser. “With this increased appropriation, many more eligible individuals will have help with the challenges they face ranging from eviction to unemployment to immigration and health care.”

The Massachusetts Senate is expected to release its budget in early May.

CLAVC Initiative Honored with Award from Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance

BOSTON, April 15 – The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative received the 2022 Innovation Award from the Victim and Witness Assistance Board and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance as part of their 2022 Victim Rights Awards.

CLAVC, administered by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, helps victims of crime throughout Massachusetts with their related civil legal problems — including family law, housing, immigration, disability rights, child welfare, education, consumer, identity theft, employment rights and public benefits.

“CLAVC advocates have had a lasting and meaningful impact on the lives of hundreds of people across the state that have been the unfortunate victims of crime,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director, who accepted the award along with Jamie Sabino of MLRI, co-managing attorney of CLAVC, and Catherine Kay, of Community Legal Aid, CLAVC senior supervising attorney.

“The CLAVC Initiative truly was an innovative idea when it was launched five years ago,” Parker said. “CLAVC brought legal services organizations together in a new model and direction, where legal aid lawyers across the state work closely together as part of a virtual law firm serving victims of crime.”

The Innovation Award is one of a series of Victim Rights Awards presented during April, Victim Rights Month. “This April, we celebrate victim rights, equity, and access to services across the Commonwealth,” said MOVA Executive Director Liam Lowney. “The individuals we are honoring this month are tireless leaders that dedicate their time and effort toward upholding victim rights and ensuring survivors have access to information, resources, and equitable services each and every day.”

The CLAVC Initiative is supported by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance through a Victims of Crime Act of 1984 grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. MOVA advocates for and assists victims of crime through survivor-informed policy development, fund administration, training, and individual assistance.

Nine CLAVC-funded civil legal aid organizations provide direct legal service:
• Community Legal Aid
• De Novo
• Greater Boston Legal Services
• MetroWest Legal Services
• Northeast Legal Aid
• South Coastal Counties Legal Services
• Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
• Disability Law Center
• Victim Rights Law Center

VWAB and MOVA will present Victim Rights Awards throughout the month of April to victims, survivors, and providers who have made notable contributions to the victim services field.

MLAC Backs Amendment to Increase Civil Legal Aid Funding in House Budget

BOSTON, April 15, 2022 – On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including $39.5 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600—a $4.5 million increase over FY22. This amount falls short of the $41 million recommended by MLAC. People with an income at or below 125% of the federal poverty line —$34,688/year for a family of four—are eligible for civil legal aid.

“We are grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing funding for civil legal aid, which continues to be vital to the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “However, we urge representatives to support Amendment 301, sponsored by Division Leader Ruth Balser and Judiciary Chair Michael Day, which would add an additional $1.5 million in funding and help more people. Low-income people, and particularly people of color, face ongoing challenges due to the pandemic—in areas including unemployment insurance, income maintenance, housing, immigration, education, and family law.”

Parker noted that recent funding increases have enabled legal aid organizations to turn away fewer eligible people. “The impact of additional civil legal aid funding would be significant—improving technological infrastructure for organizations and the clients they serve, allowing organizations to hire more attorneys to take on the increased caseload that resulted from the pandemic, increasing salaries to attract and retain talented staff who are reflective of the communities they work with, and building the capacity of community and social service organizations they partner with,” she said. “Civil legal aid is the backbone of access to justice in our Commonwealth.”

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC has a new logo

Today, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation adopted a new logo.

With the updated logo, we hope to achieve several things.

We’ve included our initials – MLAC – in our logo. It’s how many people refer to MLAC, so we’ve folded into our visual identity.

We’ve also included a graphic image. It may suggest different things to different people. It is an M for MLAC. It also represents a bridge, which symbolizes the connection MLAC makes between funding sources and civil legal services, as well as the support MLAC provides to the organizations it funds. In addition, it suggests the arches of a courthouse. And it includes an equal sign to show our core interest in funding equal justice for all people.

MLAC’s logo has changed. Its focus remains the same. As the largest source of funding for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, we are committed to providing leadership and support to improve civil legal services to low-income people in Massachusetts, through collaboration with the legal services community, the public, the bar, and the legislature. 

Hundreds of lawyers ‘Talk to the Hill’ seeking more funding for civil legal aid

US Rep. Clark, AG Healey, CJ Budd join call for $41M in FY23

Assistant Speaker to the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd led more than 800 lawyers, law students and advocates at the Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid,  urging legislators to fund civil legal aid at $41 million in the FY23 Massachusetts state budget.

The 23rd annual lobby day for civil legal on January 27 was online for the second year due to the pandemic. COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on low-income residents has intensified the need for civil legal services and the need for an additional $6 million in FY23 funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, up from $35 million in FY22.

“Until we’ve conquered the coronavirus, we must continue to deal with its impacts on our society—not just medically, but legally, as well,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Just as we strive to provide necessary medical assistance to all who are affected by COVID, so we should strive to provide necessary legal assistance to all who are affected by COVID.”

Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark

Assistant Speaker Clark said that the pandemic “has exponentially increased the difficulties and traumas facing low-income Americans.” 

“Every day, we rely on legal aid attorneys to take on cases to help protect residents in our communities—representing workers who didn’t get paid what they were owed, preventing families from being foreclosed upon or evicted, helping people navigate the unemployment claims process, working with survivors of domestic violence and that’s just the beginning,” said Attorney General Healey, who has spoken in support of civil legal aid funding for many years.

Attorney General Maura Healey

The annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, held as Talk to the Hill for the second year, is hosted by the Equal Justice Coalition, a partnership of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and MLAC. MBA President Thomas Bond and BBA President Deborah Manus urged their members to speak out for increased funding for civil legal aid.

According to Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director, the legal aid organizations MLAC funds have turned away fewer people from receiving help in the past five years, due to recent increases in the state appropriation. However, more than 50 percent of people are still turned away.

“The network of legal services providers in Massachusetts is considered to be one of the best in the country and is a critical part of the Commonwealth’s social safety net,” Parker said. “We can and we must do better” to fund them.

Louis Tompros, chair of the EJC and a partner at WilmerHale, said that the Massachusetts State Constitution “promises to everyone in the Commonwealth that they will receive equal and equitable justice under law. And it is all of our duty—but particularly all of our duty as lawyers—to make good on that promise.”

‘There’s help out there’

Clients helped by legal aid organizations described how legal aid lawyers fought to keep them safely housed and financially secure during the pandemic.

Carol, civil legal aid client

Carol, who had been permanently disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits under the federal “three strikes rule,” said her troubles were compounded by the loss of her job during the pandemic. A legal aid lawyer with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute successfully argued that the violations barring her from SNAP benefits were invalid and helped get her benefits reinstated in time for Thanksgiving.

“People need to know that there’s help out there and that nobody should be turned away for food,” Carol said.

Ed, civil legal aid client

Ed, an Air Force veteran and former special education teacher, said that an advocate with South Coastal Counties Legal Services had saved him from eviction after he received a notice to quit from his landlord. “I was in very bad shape,” he recalled. “I immediately called legal services.”

Jean, civil legal aid client

Jean, who avoided eviction during the pandemic with the help of MetroWest Legal Services, said, “[My lawyer] was the bridge. She took my hand and said, ‘Let me cross you over.’”

(Watch Ed and Jean speak about their experiences here.)

After hearing the speakers, lawyers and advocates joined breakout rooms in their Senate districts to speak with legislators about their support for MLAC’s civil legal aid budget request.

Tompros urged everyone “as citizens, lawyers, and legislators—to make good on the promise of equal justice for those who need it.”

“To do that,” Tompros said, “we need to serve more people in need. To serve more people in need, we need more legal aid lawyers. And to have more legal aid lawyers, we need more funding for civil legal aid.”

Watch Talk to the Hill here.

Additional Coverage of Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid: