Tag Archive for: Boston Bar Association

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.

Celebrating Pro Bono Month

By Lonnie Powers

Voluntary service to people in need is a deep tradition of the legal profession. Here in Massachusetts, it is clear that equal access to justice has come to depend on the pro bono services of attorneys.

Last week, the Boston Bar Association’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, formed in April 2013 to assess civil legal needs in the state, released Investing in Justice: A Roadmap to Cost-Effective Funding of Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. The Task Force’s report found that attorneys in Massachusetts donated 82,000 pro bono hours to four civil legal aid service providers in 2013. Worth $17.6 million, the contribution is greater even than the $13 million provided by the state to civil legal aid organizations that year. (State funding for civil legal aid was increased to $15 million for the current fiscal year.)

Pro bono services are a crucial contribution to the workings of our civil justice system, and are just one example of the generosity of members of the bar to our most vulnerable residents. Even so, it’s not enough to meet rising need for civil legal aid. Throughout October, the American Bar Association is celebrating Pro Bono Month to inspire attorneys to volunteer their services to those who need it most.

Indeed, the BBA’s Task Force report also documents that 30,000 low-income clients — or two-thirds of those who qualify for civil legal assistance — were denied services in 2013 simply because organizations did not have the resources to take their cases. The lack of services meant that many of those turned away were left to represent themselves — often losing their cases — or forced to drop their claims.

One of the recommendations of the Task Force is to encourage law firms to consider providing senior attorneys with space, overhead and support for pro bono activities. It also recommended the expansion of programs such as “Lawyer for the Day” at Boston Housing Court — since its inception 14 years ago, 12,000 attorneys have voluntarily assisted 15,000 people with issues related to eviction and code enforcement — to other areas of the state.

Though vital to our court system, pro bono services from attorneys cannot fill the gaps in justice that leave many poor people without legal representation. Such representation is much-needed when resolving conflicts related to the basic necessities of life such as housing, employment, classroom accommodations for our children with disabilities and family conflicts related to child support and custody, divorce and domestic violence. Pro bono service makes a difference, but we need more resources from the state if we are to achieve equal justice for all.

As we mark Pro Bono Month, we hope you’ll take the time to contact your state senator and representative and urge them to support increased funding for civil legal aid. Meanwhile, if you are an attorney, please consider pro bono service under the auspices of a legal aid organization. Every person deserves equal access to justice, regardless of income.

Lonnie A. Powers is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. He has more than 40 years of policy and legal experience at the state and national levels, having devoted the majority of his career to establishing, building, sustaining and revitalizing legal aid organizations. Lonnie began his legal career in his native Arkansas, first with the Attorney General’s Office and later with Legal Services of Arkansas, where he served as Executive Director.