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The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts established MLAC in 1983 so low-income people facing critical non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice, and representation. MLAC does not provide funds for legal assistance in criminal matters or in any civil matter in which the state is legally required to provide representation to indigent people.
MLAC provides funding in the following categories:
• Regional Legal Aid Funding – At least 80 percent of unrestricted MLAC funding goes to regional legal aid organizations that deliver a full range of civil legal services in different regions of Massachusetts. Regional Legal Aid Funding is allocated based on the number of low-income people in each organization’s geographic area, as determined by census data.
• Statewide Legal Aid Funding – Up to 20 percent of unrestricted MLAC funding is dispersed to organizations that provide services statewide.
• Special Project Funding – MLAC provides the following restricted, additional funding to organizations that receive statewide or regional funding:
– The Disability Benefits Project provides additional funding to organizations that deliver civil legal aid to people seeking disability benefits.
– The Medicare Advocacy Project provides additional funding to organizations that deliver civil legal aid to people in need of Medicare advocacy.
– The Domestic Violence Legal Assistance Project provides additional funding to organizations that deliver civil legal aid to survivors of domestic violence.
Through specific grants, MLAC also provides legal aid and community organizations with:
• Immigrants’ Rights Funding
• Victims of Crime Funding
MLAC receives the majority of its revenue from three sources: the state budget, the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, and grants from government and private sources.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts appropriates money in its state budget to MLAC, which MLAC distributes to qualified civil legal aid organizations. In Fiscal Year 2021, the state appropriation is $29 million.
MLAC receives 67 percent of the revenue generated by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program.
Under Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules, an attorney holding funds on behalf of a client must place the funds either in an account that pays interest to the client or in a pooled IOLTA account. An IOLTA account is used only if the funds are relatively modest, or will be held by the lawyer for a short time, so that the interest earned would be less than the cost of setting up and maintaining a separate account. Though the individual amounts of interest are small; the interest from the combined IOLTA accounts is significant.
The Massachusetts IOLTA Committee, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, distributes IOLTA funds to three charitable entities: MLAC, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and the Boston Bar Foundation.
Government and Private Sources
MLAC receives grants from government agencies and private foundations seeking to fund special initiatives in response to emerging crises. For example, MLAC received grants for initiatives to provide legal defense to homeowners in the midst of the foreclosure crisis, legal services to immigrants facing deportation, and to address the civil legal needs of victims of crime.