Tag Archives: lawyer legislators

BBA Welcomes Professionally Diverse New Class of Legislators

With just 6 weeks to go before members of the Massachusetts Legislature are sworn into office on January 5, 2013, we decided to take another look at the number of lawyers serving in the Massachusetts House and Senate.  For the 2013-2014 legislative session, 60 of the 200 legislators are attorneys – 46 lawyer legislators in the House of Representatives and 14 in the Senate.  This marks a net gain of 6 lawyer legislators over the session that ends on December 31st of this year.

Why should the number of lawyer legislators be of concern to the Boston Bar Association? We count on legislators with legal training to play a role in helping their non-lawyer colleagues understand technical legal concepts – in the same way a physician might clarify medical issues or a business owner might explain economic development issues.

We fervently believe the legislature should reflect the diversity of the public it serves. We are pleased to see that in addition to attorneys, the incoming “freshman class” includes several small business owners, a real estate broker, a free-lance columnist, and a recent college graduate. We want all legislators to know – regardless of their professional experience – that the Boston Bar Association is a non-partisan organization always available to provide technical assistance – whether that means walking someone through the practical ramifications of a complex piece of legislation or explaining in plain English the unintended consequences of a particular proposal. For our legislature and especially for our non-lawyer legislators, the BBA strives to be an accessible resource on issues requiring legal expertise.

The BBA supports initiatives and promotes policy that will have a positive impact on the community, the law and the legal profession.  We wish there could be a Cliff Notes version of what is sometimes technical legislation, and try our best to provide summaries and more detailed explanations for those wanting to dig in. A recent example of this is House Bill 25 “An Act Making amendments to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Covering General Provisions, Documents of Title and Secured Transactions.” As Issue Spot noted last month, the BBA supports this legislation because it will provide clarity and more certainty for commercial transactions in Massachusetts.

Even with lawyer legislators whose practices don’t necessarily deal with the UCC or other highly technical pieces of legislation, we understand nobody can be expected to vote on something with which they are not familiar. We care deeply about our credibility with all legislators, lawyer or non-lawyer, and remain committed to supplying them with as much information as they find helpful.

– Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association
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Taking Advocacy on the Road

This year we’d like to take our advocacy on the road and actually visit courts throughout Massachusetts with our state legislators. BBA President J.D. Smeallie hopes to start with the court closest to his home – Salem District Court – accompanied by his state representative and state senator.  Currently, J.D.’s district is represented by State Representative Jerry Parisella – a lawyer legislator – and outgoing State Senator Fred Barry. (Running to replace Senator Barry are Joan Lovely, an attorney and Salem City Council President, and Richard Jolitz, a paramedic and dispatcher.)

Here’s why: The BBA wants the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns and ideas on a friendly, informal basis with judges and legislators at the same time. The visits may also be a tutorial on how particular courts operate and the role they play in the lives of their constituents.

We want legislators to be able to experience in person the volume and complexity of judges’ work and to see how our courts have been faring during the last few years of fiscal uncertainty. We hope to create a shared understanding between these two co-equal branches of government about the need for adequate funding of our justice system.

Salem District Court is just the starting point. Enlisting our bar leaders, we plan to invite legislators to join us on visits to a number of other courts serving the communities in which our leaders live.

So despite the perception that the Legislature is dominated by lawyers, the numbers tell a different story. As of right now we have 54 lawyer legislators; 42 in the House and 12 in the Senate. Considering the House has a total of 160 members and the Senate a total of 40, the number of lawyer legislators is relatively small.

With Election Day less than one month away, these numbers could shift. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: The BBA is a nonpartisan organization, and we do not endorse parties or candidates.

However, we are keenly interested in the makeup of the Massachusetts Legislature, and the impact that has on court funding. As the number of lawyers in the legislature declines, it is incumbent on us to help frame the debate in terms of the important role courts play in the lives of constituents.

Advocating for our state courts is one of the BBA’s top priorities. We’ve done it in the past (see our work on Court Advocacy Day and our report on the court’s budget) and we’ve done it well. But this is a permanent campaign requiring that we continue our advocacy efforts.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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