Hundreds of lawyers “Walk to the Hill” in support of increased civil legal aid funding

Walk to the Hill 2024 attendees’ check-in line

BOSTON, MA, January 26 – On Thursday, January 25, more than 600 attorneys and law students from across Massachusetts gathered at the State House to lobby their legislators for increased funding for civil legal aid.  

Excitement filled the air as people mingled and caught up with colleagues they had not seen in quite some time. This year marked the return of an in-person “Walk to the Hill,” as the COVID-19 pandemic led to three years of virtual events. 

Walk to the Hill is an annual lobby day organized by the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC). The EJC is a partnership of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). Its mission is to advocate for civil legal aid funding at the state level through the budget line item for MLAC, which is the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth.  

Civil legal aid provides free representation, guidance, and resources to people who are facing legal barriers to accessing basic needs and cannot afford an attorney. Households with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($39,000 per year for a family of four and $18,825 for an individual) qualify for civil legal aid.  

For people with low incomes, access to a civil legal aid attorney can mean the difference between housing and homelessness; economic security and overwhelming financial burden; personal safety and domestic violence. 

Walk to the Hill 2024 began with a speaking program that included Attorney General Andrea Campbell; Louis Tompros, Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition; Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian Turco; Boston Bar Association President Hannah Kilson; Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Executive Director Lynne Parker; and Ms. Livia Gonzalez, a Worcester resident who recently received life-changing help from her local civil legal aid organization. 

Ms. Gonzalez had the crowd on their feet when she finished her story.  

Livia Gonzalez (middle) poses with her attorneys Michelin Cahill (L) and Marina Abraham (R)

As the primary caretaker for her adult son who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which is a terminal illness, Ms. Gonzalez had secured a rental home that was handicap accessible. Her son is so frail that moving him at this point could be fatal. Still, a new landlord pressured her to leave the unit, even though she paid rent on time month after month and took great care of the property. 

“I could not have won my case without legal aid,” says Livia, whose attorney helped her obtain a settlement that allows her and her son to remain in the apartment and provides adequate time to find a new home after her son passes. “The system was stacked against my family. But with my attorney, I had faith – and we prevailed.” 

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker

After the speaking program, attendees met with their legislators to emphasize the importance of fully funding MLAC’s request for $55 million in FY25. Governor Maura Healey released her FY25 budget proposal on Wednesday, January 24. It included $50.5 million for MLAC’s line item. 

Notably, increased investments over the past few years have resulted in a sizable decrease in the number of eligible residents being turned away, but still only about 50% of qualified applicants receive legal representation. While progress is admirable, it is clear that significant need for legal services remains. 

“Ensuring justice is accessible to all will take sustained and significant investment,” says MLAC’s Lynne Parker. “With continued support from the state legislature, our legal aid organizations will expand and enhance their programs to serve more people in need.” 

58 General Counsels and In-House Lawyers at Massachusetts Businesses Sign Letter Supporting $55 Million for Civil Legal Aid Programs in FY25 State Budge

BOSTON, January 17 – As the Commonwealth awaits release of Governor Healey’s FY’25 state budget later this month, 58 attorneys who are General Counsels or In-House Lawyers at Massachusetts-based corporations signed a letter to the Governor supporting the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) FY’25 budget line-item request for civil legal aid services.

MLAC is the largest funder of civil legal aid in the Commonwealth. Civil legal aid is a lifeline for Massachusetts residents at or below 125% of the poverty level who need legal assistance to solve problems related to safety, housing, and economic security. Financially eligible clients can receive free representation from a legal aid attorney in a wide variety of legal issue areas, including family law, workers’ rights, tenant protections and more.

The letter’s signatories represent a diverse array of attorneys from the Massachusetts business community. All of them agree that civil legal aid is a critical investment that uplifts the individuals and families that receive services, and entire communities as well. Soaring housing costs, inflation, and the lingering effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted people and families with low incomes.

“It is my opinion that it is crucial we uphold the promise that our justice system is fair and open to everyone,” says Bill Gabovitch, General Counsel of Primark US and long-time supporter of increased civil legal aid. “Massachusetts has an impressive and impactful network of legal aid organizations that are changing lives every day. Having access to a legal aid attorney can mean the difference between housing and homelessness, or financial stability and extreme poverty.”

The letter arrived at the Governor’s desk just weeks before the Equal Justice Coalition’s annual “Walk to the Hill” event, which many of the signers will attend on January 25. “Walk to the Hill” (now in its 25th year) is an annual tradition that brings private bar attorneys, law students, and advocates for justice from across the state to the Massachusetts State House to lobby their legislators for increased funding for civil legal aid. The Equal Justice Coalition sponsors the event every year as part of its mission to expand access to civil legal aid for Massachusetts residents with low incomes.

You can read the general counsels’ letter in its entirety at equaljusticecoalition.org/letter-campaign. The January 25 event is free and open to the public. Media are welcome and encouraged to attend. Speakers will include Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, leaders from the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations, and a client who benefited from civil legal aid last year.

To register for “Walk to the Hill,” visit equaljusticecoalition.org/walk.


About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Boston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.

www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Equal Justice Coalition Honors Massachusetts Legislators for Championing Civil Legal Aid

Awardees at Beacon of Justice Awards (2023)

Awardees pose at the 2023 Beacon of Justice ceremony (L to R: Senator James Eldridge, Senator Cindy Friedman, Representative Michael Day, Representative Ruth Balser, Representative Christine Barber, and Senator Joanne Comerford

On Thursday, October 19, the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) held a special event at the Massachusetts State House to formally recognize seven legislators who have been “Beacons of Justice” on the hill. This year’s honorees were selected by a committee for their unwavering support of civil legal aid funding through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) budget line item.

MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. In FY24, the legislature appropriated $49 million to organizations that provide legal assistance to people with low incomes who are facing critical, non-criminal legal issues including domestic violence, eviction, unemployment benefits, and more.

Beacon of Justice Awards were presented to:

  • Representative Christine Barber (D, 34th Middlesex)
  • Senator Joanne Comerford (D, Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester)
  • Representative Michael Day (D, 31st Middlesex)
  • Senator Cindy Friedman (D, 4th Middlesex)

L to R: MLAC Board Chair Mala Rafik, Representative Christine Barber, South Coastal Counties Legal Services Executive Director Christopher Oldi, and MetroWest Legal Services Executive Director Betsy Soule

The EJC also recognized past Beacon of Justice Award recipients who are longstanding champions of civil legal aid by naming them to the Beacon of Justice Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame awards were presented to:

  • Representative Ruth Balser (D, 12th Middlesex)
  • Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D, Norfolk and Middlesex)
  • Senator James Eldridge (D, Middlesex and Worcester)

After years of virtual meetings, attendees enjoyed reuniting in person over coffee, tea, and desserts.

Senate President Karen Spilka kicked off the ceremony with a powerful message about what drives her and her colleagues at the State House: “Of all the motivations for getting things done in the Senate, few are as powerful as the words in our state constitution: equal justice for all.”

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker speaking at an event

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker thanked this year’s honorees for their efforts and advocacy in support of civil legal aid. “With the support of those we are honoring today,” she said, “more people will receive legal advice and representation. More low-income individuals and families will be able to remain in their homes; more will receive the benefits and wages they are entitled to; more survivors of domestic violence will obtain the vital protections they need for themselves and their children to stay safe and free from harm; and more seniors, veterans and those with disabilities will get legal representation when they need it most.

MBA President Damia Turco speaking at an event

Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian Turco

Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian Turco, Boston Bar Association President Hannah Kilson, and MLAC Board Chair Mala Rafik also gave heartfelt remarks about the importance of promoting equal justice for all.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer to help people, but to me, the representatives we choose personify the concept of helping others,” Mala said. “I have tremendous admiration … for those of us who use their voice to stand up for their neighbors, particularly those whose voices have been stifled for so many reasons.”

The ceremony served as a reminder of the incredible impact a group of committed advocates can have on removing barriers to justice, stability, and opportunity for residents of our Commonwealth.

MLAC Commends Governor Healey and Legislature for $49 Million Appropriation for Civil Legal Aid in FY24 Budget

BOSTON, August 9, 2023 – Earlier today, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey signed into law the FY24 Budget of the Commonwealth, which includes $49 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) to provide funding to civil legal aid organizations through line item 0321-1600. This marks an $8 million increase over the FY23 allocation.

MLAC is the largest funder for our state’s civil legal aid organizations, which provide free representation, guidance, and resources to people with low incomes who are facing civil legal problems that threaten their access to basic needs. Last year, MLAC-funded organizations helped more than 96,000 people across Massachusetts secure safety, shelter, and economic stability. Civil legal aid attorneys handle a wide range of non-criminal cases, including eviction and housing instability, consumer fraud, domestic protection orders, workers’ rights violations and wage theft, access to equitable education services, and more.

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker expressed her appreciation to Governor Healey and the Legislature, saying, “This investment will make a difference in the lives of people and families struggling to make ends meet. When faced with a civil legal crisis, our state’s most vulnerable residents have no means of hiring an attorney. Without representation, the odds are stacked against people with low incomes; for example, data from housing court shows unrepresented tenants facing eviction are much more likely to lose their case than tenants who come to court with an attorney by their side.”

Households with an annual income at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for civil legal aid funded through MLAC’s line item. In 2023, that threshold is $37,500 for a family of four and $18,255 for an individual.

In several key areas, demand for legal aid from MLAC-funded organizations has increased significantly over the past three years. During FY20-FY22, closed case averages show that unemployment insurance cases increased by 320%, domestic violence cases increased by 40%, and landlord-tenant cases increased by 23%.

“Our Commonwealth is committed to the goal of ensuring a fair and accessible justice system for all,” said Parker. “Making this a reality takes intentional, strategic investment. With $49 million in FY24, Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations will continue to employ more attorneys and other staff, assist more people across the state, expand their partnerships, and innovate to meet new and developing needs.”

Parker noted that MLAC is also grateful for the dedicated support of the Equal Justice Coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association; managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms; corporate in-house counsels; representatives from area law schools; and social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC welcomes new Board Member: Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Chief Justice John D. Casey

BOSTON, MA — On July 1, Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Chief Justice John D. Casey officially joined the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Board of Directors for a five-year term as the designated appointee of the Trial Court of Massachusetts. MLAC’s charter stipulates that the chief justice of the Trial Court either serve as a Board Member or appoint a designee.

Chief Justice Casey has over three decades of experience in family law matters, including 17 years with the Probate and Family Court. He joined the Probate and Family Court in 2006 and has served as chief justice since 2018. His accomplishments during this time are numerous; for example, he led an award-winning case conferencing program in partnership with the Department of Revenue that leveraged remote hearings to address thousands of paternity and child support cases. His commitment to keeping the courts responsive to litigants’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely lauded and is demonstrated by his early adoption of virtual proceedings, virtual registries, and expanded eFiling.

A trusted mentor to many, Chief Justice Casey has served as a J2J Mentor and frequently participated on panels for the MBA, BBA, MCLE and others. Prior to joining the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, Chief Justice Casey was the First Justice of the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court. He also served for four years on the Judicial Conduct Commission.

“Family law issues are consistently some of the most common types of problems we see in the civil justice system,” says Lynne Parker, Executive Director of MLAC. “I look forward to working with Chief Justice Casey, and to the valuable insights he will bring to MLAC’s Board initiatives, as we continue our efforts to expand funding for civil legal aid so more people with low incomes can be served.”

Stepping down from his role as Trial Court appointee to MLAC’s Board is Timothy Linnehan, Alternative Dispute Resolution Coordinator for the Massachusetts Trial Court. As Board Treasurer, he helped steer MLAC through both the economic recession of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic. His contributions to the organization have been incalculable. MLAC sincerely thanks him for his partnership and personal investment over many years.

MLAC Statement on the Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our schools, neighborhoods, institutions, and organizations is vital to the work of building a more collaborative, innovative, and compassionate society.

MLAC understands that the work of civil legal aid is deeply connected to the tenets of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Equal access to justice and opportunity have historically been denied to marginalized groups based on race, ethnicity, economic status, and other factors that are directly tied to the effects of institutionalized racism. Countering this reality takes intentional efforts to ensure people from all backgrounds are welcomed into the rooms and halls where knowledge, power, and influence are cultivated—intentional efforts that are not achieved and then abandoned. This is an ongoing pursuit and must be continually prioritized. MLAC stands behind this principle and will continue to lead in its efforts to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive legal aid community that values the lived experiences of all people – especially those that have been historically marginalized. We serve these communities every day as we fight for access to justice through civil legal aid.

We implore all our partners to join us and continue in this persistent work to overcome the institutional barriers that have stalled, for far too long, the pursuit of justice for all.

MLAC Applauds the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means for Civil Legal Aid Investment in FY24 Budget

BOSTON, May 9, 2023 – Today, the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means released its FY24 budget proposal, which includes $49 million for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) line item 0321-1600.

MLAC is the largest funder for our state’s civil legal aid organizations, which provide free representation, guidance, and resources to people with low incomes who are facing civil legal problems that threaten their access to basic needs. Last year, MLAC-funded organizations helped over 96,000 people across Massachusetts secure safety, shelter, and economic stability. Civil legal aid attorneys handle a wide range of non-criminal cases, including eviction and housing instability, consumer fraud, domestic protection orders, employment and wage theft, access to equitable education services, and more.

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker expressed her appreciation for the Committee’s FY24 investment in civil legal aid, saying, “The Senate’s investment will make a difference in the lives of individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. Our state’s most vulnerable residents cannot fathom hiring an attorney when they are faced with a civil legal crisis. Challenges such as unjust evictions, consumer fraud, and domestic violence can all be addressed in our civil justice system – but without representation, the odds are stacked against people who are living in poverty.”

MLAC requested $49 million to fund civil legal aid organizations in the FY24 budget. By supporting our request in full, the Massachusetts Senate is committing essential resources that will strengthen our state’s civil legal aid organizations and allow them to help more people and families in their times of greatest need.”

To qualify for legal services funded through the MLAC line item, people and families must have incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four; $18,225 for an individual).

Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) has long championed the cause of civil legal aid. “Massachusetts is proud of its reputation as a state where we take care of each other and promote equal opportunity for all, regardless of income. Your income should not predict whether you can stay in your home or maintain your health care or employment. Our state’s civil legal aid organizations play a major role in keeping our promise to residents by providing representation that is essential to maintain their most basic necessities of life.”

Senate Judiciary Chair Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) has been a staunch advocate and leader for civil legal aid throughout his career in public service. “I am continuously impressed by the way our state’s legal aid organizations innovate year after year to address urgent and ever-changing needs in their communities. During COVID-19, they adapted and remained accessible even in the most difficult of circumstances. The FY24 investment goes a long way towards ensuring our civil legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth will continue to serve as a lifeline for some of our most vulnerable residents facing a legal crisis.

“On behalf of MLAC, I thank the Massachusetts Senate for fully funding civil legal aid services in the FY24Ways and Means budget,” says Parker. “It is an essential and important step towards strengthening and supporting our state’s people, neighborhoods, and communities as we continue to collectively recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

MLAC Applauds Massachusetts House of Representatives FY24 Budget

BOSTON, April 12, 2023 – Earlier today, the Massachusetts House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee released its FY24 budget proposal, which includes $49 million for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) line item 0321-1600.

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker says that by fully funding MLAC’s request, Massachusetts State Representatives demonstrated their understanding of legal aid’s critical role supporting our most vulnerable neighbors across the Commonwealth.

“MLAC is grateful to our state representatives for supporting civil legal aid, which serves as a lifeline for Massachusetts residents in crisis,” says Parker. “Over the years, their critical investments in MLAC have enabled attorneys, paralegals, and other legal aid staff to help tens of thousands of people secure essential basic needs including housing, health care and employment security.”

In order to receive legal services funded through the MLAC line-item, people and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four; $18,225 for an individual) qualify for civil legal aid.

“We thank Speaker Ron Mariano, Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and Ways and Means Vice Chair Ann-Margaret Ferrante for their commitment to MLAC and civil legal aid. We also thank Division Chair Ruth Balser, House Judiciary Chair Michael Day, and House members who supported the FY24 increase. This investment is greatly appreciated and impactful.”

Civil legal aid organizations deliver a unique, essential service: they provide no-cost representation to income-eligible clients on a wide variety of non-criminal cases, including consumer issues, domestic protection orders, educational services, wage theft, and more. In FY22, Massachusetts legal aid organizations handled nearly 43,000 cases.

MLAC’s line item in the state budget is the largest funding source for Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations.

Representative Ruth B. Balser (D-Newton), a longtime supporter and advocate for civil legal aid, recognizes that our state’s legal aid organizations are a critical component of our state’s safety net. “With $49 million in FY24, civil legal aid organizations will bolster their capacity to deliver necessary services to more eligible residents and expand their impact through partnerships and systemic advocacy,” she says. “I am proud that the House continues to show its commitment to ensuring that low-income residents of the Commonwealth will have equal access to justice.”

“This budget continues the welcome trend of making substantial increases in state funding to MLAC, which means that Massachusetts has been able to provide legal aid to significantly more individuals who would have otherwise been denied representation simply because of their lack of financial resources,” said Representative Michael S. Day (D-Stoneham). “This FY24 funding will help legal aid organizations continue to help more of our neighbors in need.”

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

MLAC Commends Governor Healey for FY24 Budget with Increased Investment in Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON, March 1, 2023 – Earlier today, Governor Maura Healey issued her FY24 state budget recommendations, which included $49 for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) line item 0321-1600.

“MLAC is grateful for Governor Healey’s outstanding commitment to supporting civil legal aid, and we applaud her increased investment of $8 million in state-appropriated funds for these services in FY24,” says MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker. “This is the amount necessary to keep our state’s civil legal aid organizations operating at a pace that can meet increasing demand and address workforce retention and recruitment issues in the current economic climate.” People and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four; $18,255 for an individual) qualify for civil legal aid.

Civil legal aid can be a lifeline for people who cannot afford to hire an attorney when faced with serious issues related to their safety, shelter, or economic security. The end of pandemic-era relief programs, rising housing costs, and inflation have all contributed to increased demand for civil legal aid. Compared to the three years before the pandemic (FY17–FY19), case averages from FY20– FY22 reveal a 320% increase in unemployment insurance cases; a 40% increase in domestic violence cases; a 23% increase in private landlord/ tenant cases; and a 29% increase in immigration/ naturalization cases.

“As the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth, MLAC receives the majority of its funding from the annual state budget line item 0321-1600,” Parker says. “This investment directly supports Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations, which provide critical representation and resources to people with low incomes who face barriers to accessing their most basic needs.

“In recent years, increases in state appropriated funding have helped Massachusetts legal aid organizations serve more people and improve efficiencies. Just a few years ago, 57% of people who qualified for legal aid and sought help were denied representation. Last year, that rate was 47%. More investment in these programs will keep this trend moving in the right direction.”

“Our state’s civil legal aid organizations extend justice to our neighbors and strengthen communities across the Commonwealth,” Parker says. “We thank Governor Healey for the increased investment, which furthers the Commonwealth’s goal of upholding the promise of equal justice for all.  MLAC looks forward to working collaboratively with the state legislature to approve this allocation of $49 million for civil legal aid in the final FY24 budget.”

Talk to the Hill draws more than 1,000 people to support $49M for civil legal aid in FY24

BOSTON, January 27– On Thursday, Governor Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients joined a virtual gathering of more than 1,000 people – including 755 members of the private bar and several dozen law students for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. The event kicked off the Equal Justice Coalition‘s campaign to support $49 million in the FY24 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which funds civil legal aid organizations across the state. Civil legal aid organizations provide legal advice and representation at no cost to Massachusetts residents with low incomes. People and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four) qualify for civil legal aid.

The Walk to the Hill lobby day event, which engages members of the private bar and is now in its 24th year, has been held in a virtual format since the COVID-19 pandemic.

After hearing from the program’s speakers, attendees joined breakout rooms with their legislators. These meetings offered a unique opportunity for private attorneys and law students to speak directly to legislators and share why they believe civil legal aid is critically important.

Photo of Maura Healey speaking in front of green wall and framed painting.

Maura Healey speaks at Talk to the Hill 2023

In her opening remarks, Governor Healey, a longtime supporter of civil legal aid, said she looks forward to “continuing this partnership to make sure that every Massachusetts resident has access to the legal representation they deserve, and to make our state more just and equal for all.”

Healey also noted that legal aid services have become even more critical throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s why we need legal aid to be strong,” she said. “Not only to handle the uptick of cases we’ve seen, but also to help us address systemic problems, level the playing field, and secure access to justice for everyone who needs it.”

Screenshot of Chief Justice Budd speaking on video, with blurred background and close captioned text reading "The need is clear."

Chief Justice Budd speaks during the program.

Chief Justice Budd spoke about the importance of legal aid in maintaining confidence in the legal system. She referenced a recent nationwide poll conducted by the National Center for State Courts that asked respondents if they believe the court system is fair.

“The responses from people of color were particularly concerning,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Approximately 60% of Black and Hispanic respondents said that the phrase ‘provide[s] equal justice to all’ does not describe state courts.

There are undoubtedly many complex factors that contribute to this perception of unfairness. But one concrete step that we can take … is to increase the availability of counsel for people who cannot afford a lawyer.”

Powerful testimonials

Simi, smiling, sitting on office chair in front of a gray wall and blue and white abstract painting.

Simi shares her legal aid story.

Client speakers included Simi, a young woman who connected with the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts for help with an immigration issue. Simi was 16 when her hometown in Nigeria was attacked by terrorists while she was studying at a summer program in New England, for which she’d earned a scholarship. “I got scared,” Simi said, “and I decided to not go back. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.”

“Having access to organizations like the Children’s Law Center, and lawyers like Jay [McManus] … it’s like a ticket to hope,” Simi said. “I’ve moved from just having hope to actualizing dreams that I never thought I’d accomplish in life.” With help from her attorney, Simi secured a green card in late 2019. She graduated from Wesleyan University last May.

Jim, smiling, sits at a table with glass of water in front of him. An abstract orange painting is visible in the background.

Jim, a legal aid client, shares his story.

A second client speaker, Jim, told his story of getting helped by his local legal aid with an unemployment issue. Jim worked in the bathroom remodeling business when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Afraid to risk his own health and the health of others (and heeding the advice of public health officials), Jim stopped going into other people’s homes for a period of time. He filed for Unemployment Insurance, and his application was approved. A year after he had received his benefits, however, Jim got a letter stating he was determined to be ineligible and needed to repay more than $35,000.

“I was shocked, to say the least,” says Jim. He contacted MetroWest Legal Services and an attorney took his case right away. The attorney represented Jim at a hearing and presented evidence supporting his appropriate refusal of jobs during a global pandemic. The judge ruled him eligible to receive Unemployment Insurance, and he did not have to repay any amount of the money he had rightfully received.

“When I contacted legal aid and found out they were willing to work with me on this case, I was relieved tremendously,” Jim told the Talk to the Hill crowd. “It meant a significant difference to my emotional and financial health.”

More funding in FY24 is critical

Louis Tompros, Partner at WilmerHale in Boston, serves as Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition which coordinates the event each year. Tompros says the impact of increased state appropriated funding is evidenced by improvements in the number of eligible residents served. A few years ago, 57% of people who met financial requirements and applied for help were denied representation; today that number is 47%.

While it is encouraging that organizations are accepting more cases, Tompros emphasizes that “nearly half of the people who are eligible still do not receive representation simply because staff resources are insufficient.”

Lynne Parker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, says that since the pandemic began, “We’ve seen dramatic increases in housing cases and unemployment cases, for example. Responding to these and other urgent needs requires a robust workforce of legal aid staff. More funding will help recruit and retain skilled advocates needed to make justice for all a reality in Massachusetts.”

The recorded program is available for viewing at ejctalktothehill.org.

List of Speakers:

  • Governor Maura Healey
  • Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court
  • Grace V.B. Garcia, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association
  • Chinh H. Pham, President of the Boston Bar Association
  • Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
  • Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
  • Legal aid clients who received help over the past year
  • Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition

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