Monthly Archives: December 2013

13 for ’13

As 2013 draws to a close, here’s a timeline of 13 things we’re thankful for this year.

1) Diversity.  We tried to live up to our illustrious history of diversity and inclusion this year at the BBA.  From amicus briefs defending marriage equality and affirmative action to the Beacon Award, we reasserted our commitment to expanding fairness for all.  This year we released our Diversity and Inclusion Timeline highlighting key events in our history that helped shape our community. 

2) Taking it to the Top.  We started the year off right by advocating for trial court funding with the head of the executive branch, Governor Deval Patrick.  For the first time we sat down and spoke directly to Governor Patrick and his legal staff about this important issue. 

3) Walk to the Hill.  In late January, we proudly participated in the 14th annual Walk to the Hill with 650 lawyers.  Our members used their advocacy skills by speaking to legislators and staffers on the impact civil legal aid funding has in Massachusetts.  We  helped secure $13 million in civil legal aid funding for Fiscal Year 2014.  Please join us for Walk to the Hill 2014, scheduled for Thursday, January 30th.  We hope you’ll join us.  (More information here and here)

4) Protecting Attorney Ethics Consultations.  We were pleased that the SJC ruling reflected a lot of the same thinking as our amicus brief in RFF Family Partnership v. Burns & Levinson, by applying attorney-client privilege to a lawyer’s consultation with in-house ethics counsel.  This issue was an important one for all of our members who practice in law firms, large or small, and for their clients.  The ruling gives lawyers the requisite peace of mind to consult in-house ethics counsel to make sure they act in accordance with the state’s ethics and professional conduct guidelines.

5) Some Clarity on Decanting.  We sought guidance through an amicus brief in Richard Morse, Trustee v. Jonathan A. Kraft et al. This case addressed, for the first time in Massachusetts, a trustee’s power to transfer the assets of one irrevocable trust to another for the same class of beneficiaries. The brief argued in favor of this power, called “decanting,” and urged the court to recognize that it is inherently held by trustees.  The SJC ruled favorably with respect to Morse’s petition, but declined to recognize decanting as an inherent trustee power.

6) BBA Statewide Task Force.  In April, we created the Boston Bar Association Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.  Chaired by past-president J.D. Smeallie, the Task Force features 27 diverse leaders in the state’s legal community from law firms, in-house counsels, academia, the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, and legal services organizations.  The Task Force is making significant progress in quantifying and assessing both the civil legal aid services currently provided in the state and the needs not being met.

7) Legal Services Discussion.  Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) joined us at the BBA over the summer to talk about the current state of LSC funding, reinforcing the need for bi-partisan support and the importance of connecting with the business community. President Sandman emphasized that legal services is not a social safety net or a poverty relief program.  Legal services are necessary to ensure access to justice for all 

8) Defense of Marriage Equality.  This summer, we celebrated the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding marriage equality in the cases of U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Reaffirming our longstanding advocacy efforts for marriage equality, we joined a coalition of other bar associations, civil and human rights groups, and public interest and legal services organizations that signed onto the briefs.  (Read the briefs here and here)

9) Amending the UCC.  On July 1st, Governor Patrick signed into law “An Act making amendments to the uniform commercial code covering general provisions, documents of title and secured transactions.”  We collaborated with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bankers Association to get this bill before the House and Senate for their final approval.  While this law didn’t make big news, it will remove needless obstacles that small businesses run into when trying to secure credit.

10) Paula Carey named Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  We cheered when Paula Carey, former Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court began her post as Chief Justice of the Trial Court this summer.  We look forward to working with her and Court Administrator Harry Spence as the trial court implements its strategic plan.   

11) Judicial Pay Raise.  At long last, the legislature passed a judicial pay raise – an essential step to continuing providing the high quality justice residents of Massachusetts expect and deserve.  Before this legislation, Massachusetts ranked 48th in the nation in judicial compensation. 

The $30,000 raise will take effect in two equal installments; the first increase will be effective January 1, 2014 and the second increase will be effective July 1, 2014. 

12) A Step in the Right Direction for Mandatory Minimum Sentences.  In August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a Justice Department proposal to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, something that the BBA continues to work on at the state level.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses is sensible, fiscally responsible, and more protective of public safety.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences also returns to judges the discretion they need to dispense fair and effective justice.

13) Juvenile Justice.  This summer, the state enacted “An Act expanding juvenile jurisdiction.”  This law, raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts from 17 to 18 years old, was unanimously supported by the BBA Council.  The change moved Massachusetts in line with the majority of other states and, according to researchers, will give minors a greater chance of becoming productive members of society.

2013 was a significant year.  Here’s looking ahead to a great 2014!  Happy holidays!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Enhancing your BBA Government Relations Experience

When it comes to public policy, transparency and early communication among stakeholders are of utmost importance.  We can always do a better job communicating.  We need to keep our members up to date and educated, especially when it comes to the history and process of the BBA’s public policy positions.

At the same time, communication with BBA Steering Committee sections is especially important.  Reach out and let us know how we can improve our communication – we’d love to hear from you.  Right now our weekly blog is a good place to find out what we are currently working on and thinking about in the area of government relations.  Starting with our next Public Policy Update, which will be sent out Friday December 20th, all Section Steering Committee members will have the benefit of seeing what items are coming up on the Council’s agenda as well as other legislative activities or events of interest. 

Here are some ways you, as members, can also help us improve our public policy process: 

Early input – If you spot an emerging public policy issue, let us know either directly or through your Section Co-Chairs.  We may know if another BBA Section is thinking about the same issue.  We will also do our best to keep you up to date on issues that other Sections are working on.  Please share with us any suggestions for keeping communication efficient as public policy evolves.   

One recent example of how issue spotting and early input was effective was the amicus brief that the BBA filed in Morse v. Kraft.  The Trusts and Estates Steering Committee had discussed “decanting,” an issue trusts and estates practitioners have long wanted clarified or changed.  Lawyers who advise trustees, as well as lawyers who serve as trustees, have faced significant uncertainty regarding the validity of actions taken or advice given in connection with this issue, and the Morse case was the first time it was taken up by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Therefore, the Steering Committee drafted a proposal to the Amicus Committee asking that the BBA weigh in with a brief.  The Amicus Committee recommended that the BBA Council file an amicus brief.  The proposal was approved, the brief was written by eight members of the Steering Committee, and the BBA filed it in late March

Stay involved – make personal connections and if you can, attend monthly meetings and programs.  While this may be tougher to work into your schedule than other forms of communication, we have observed many impressive discussions on an array of complex legal and political topics that were made possible because people took the time and effort to meet face-to-face.  In addition, this will give you access to the most up-to-date information.  The professional networking, personal friendships, and snacks are all bonuses to this rewarding experience.  Be one of the people who makes BBA news instead of reading about it.

Stay involved, stay engaged, participate, and, when in doubt, give us a call

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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The Significance of Pro Bono Service

Pro bono is an important part of every lawyer’s career, so when a judicial candidate’s pro bono work came into question at a recent Governor’s Council hearing, we took issue.  An attorney’s commitment to pro bono should be applauded and not criticized.  Some would say attorneys have a professional obligation to do pro bono work because upholding fairness, credibility and impartiality of our justice system is the right thing to do, especially for those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney. 

Lawyers have a unique skill set and knowledge of our justice system that can be used to provide access to justice for those who might not otherwise have it in both the civil and criminal arenas.  This sometimes means representing unpopular clients or causes, regardless of the allegations.  It can also mean filing an amicus brief involving vital legal principles, without regard to the political climate.

As the great Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, “it is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.” Lawyers, often providing their skills on a pro bono basis, ensure the integrity of the adversarial process.  The BBA’s first president, John Adams, gained a certain degree of notoriety and, eventually, the utmost respect, for his work defending British soldiers charged with the murder of patriots at the Boston Massacre. 

The BBA is proud to bestow awards on lawyers performing pro bono service, and is especially cognizant of the fact that advocating on behalf of the criminally accused or people on the margins of society requiring assistance with homelessness, mental illness, and Social Security may be misunderstood in quarters outside bar associations, making these attorneys the targets of criticism.  Unfortunately, some people confuse the preservation of individual rights with advocacy for a political cause, but the bottom line is that acccess to justice for all is one of the pillars of our justice system and of our democracy.  Lawyers should not be confused with their clients, and pro bono work should not be a mark of shame for any lawyer, and should never disqualify a nominee from judicial service.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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