Tag Archives: john adams

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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Reflections for the 4th

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July and reflect on the founding of our nation, the BBA is reminded of its own beginnings and the meetings convened by John Adams in the 1700’s.  These meetings provided lawyers throughout the city with an opportunity to discuss the practice of law in colonial America and the common desire to live in a just society. Today the BBA, as a community of attorneys and citizens, focuses on these same issues in a variety of ways.

Just one example of the ways we do this is through our public policy work.  The BBA speaks out at the federal and state level on significant pieces of legislation that impact access to justice, the administration of justice and the practice of law – including civil rights and civil liberties. Our advocacy in this area spans such issues as affirmative action, the right to vote and same-sex marriage.  Some of our recent work includes raising our concerns over the National Defense Authorization Act in a letter to President Obama, testifying in support of the  newly enacted Transgender Equal Rights Act and collaborating with the Legislature to secure passage of a critical access to DNA bill in Massachusetts. The BBA continues to be a beacon for fair and equal treatment under the law for every citizen.

For America’s birthday we thought we’d share a quote from our founder, John Adams.  In a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote of the Declaration of Independence and the coming struggle for freedom:

“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means.”

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Behind Our Public Policy Focus

The Massachusetts Legislature handles thousands of bills every session, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts frequently solicits amicus briefs.  In addition there are countless opportunities for comments on rule making and rules changes at the state and federal level.  Making a meaningful impact demands that we focus our public policy efforts.

We trace our roots back to the John Adams who defended the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre, and have tried to remain true to those roots.  Hence we focus our public policy efforts on issues directly relating to access to justice, the administration of justice, the practice of law, and improving the quality of laws in the Commonwealth.

Admittedly, we often field requests to lend the prestige of the Boston Bar Association to groups dealing with worthy issues unrelated to our mission. While providing such an “endorsement” might win us a pat on the back from people we admire or even make us feel good about ourselves, the reality is that such activities can dilute our message and squander our political capital.

We want to be known as the bar association that steps forward to advocate for adequate funding for legal aid, our State Courts, District Attorneys’ Offices, and indigent criminal defense services.  We also want to be known as the bar association that cares about drafting legislation that will work the way it was intended.  So it is that even after the formal session has ended, we continue to advocate zealously for technical changes to the soon-to-be enacted Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code.

We have a volunteer talent pool as wide as it is deep, and are uniquely positioned to lend our expertise on issues where we as lawyers can make a unique contribution based on our skill sets and experience.  But we want to leverage this talent wisely in ways that can provide the greatest value.

Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association
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In the Tradition of Our Founder

In August Governor Deval Patrick declared October 2010 to be Pro Bono Month, a proclamation that the BBA wholeheartedly endorsed.  The BBA has a long history of promoting pro bono participation in the tradition of the organization’s founder, John Adams.  Now more than ever, pro bono representation is critical to ensuring equal access to justice in the Commonwealth.  Today there is an overwhelming demand for legal representation as a record number of individuals are forced to appear in court pro se because they cannot afford a lawyer and the demand for legal services far outstrips supply.  We continue to hear from our members about how this affects not just access to justice but the administration of justice.  Here are some of the things we have learned in the last year:

  • Pro se litigants require more assistance from court staff to understand and navigate the judicial process.
  • On one day in the Housing Court last fall, 203 cases were on the docket: in those cases, 189 tenants appeared pro se, as did 43 landlords.
  • The courts are trying to keep pace with the demand with diminished resources and fewer and fewer staff.
  • Delayed hearings and rulings can have direct negative impacts on individuals seeking relief from the judiciary on issues ranging from eviction to domestic abuse.

Our 2009-10 Public Interest Leaders recognized this growing problem and decided to focus their efforts on finding a creative way to address it.  They sought to meet the needs of both indigent litigants and lawyers who wish to help, but may not have the time to devote to long-term projects.  The group surveyed created a resource guide that focused solely on opportunities that would require 10 hours or less to complete.

On September 22, 2010, they held Take a Bite: Snack-Size Pro Bono Opportunities That Fit Your Practice here at the BBA.  Over 15 organizations with more than 20 opportunities for pro bono work that require 10 or fewer hours participated.  The event served as a great prelude to Pro Bono Month.  October at the BBA has been buzzing with training programs and events that celebrate and promote the importance of pro bono representation.  This has served as a great jumping off point for the BBA to continue its pro bono projects throughout the year.

For ways that you can get involved, check out the BBA’s calendar and our Public Service Program page.  There is still time left to attend one of our events and to make a lasting impact on the lives of those in need.

Boston Bar Association

Government Relations Department

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