Tag Archives: legal aid

Advocacy Skills In Action

Thank you to our members who took the time out of their busy schedules to gather at the State House for yesterday’s 14th annual Walk to the Hill.  BBA members were among the 650 attorneys who put their advocacy skills into action in support of civil legal aid.  Walk to the Hill 2013 was a great success, but our work to ensure adequate funding of civil legal aid is only just beginning.

A real life example of how civil legal aid helps people was described by South Coastal Counties Legal Services client, Daniele Bien-Aime.  Through no fault of her own, this mother of two young children lost her job, and then her health insurance and came close to being evicted from her apartment — while undergoing a bilateral mastectomy and follow-up treatment for breast cancer. A legal aid attorney helped her get her job back, continue her treatment and stay in her home.

A surprise visit from Governor Patrick provided an opportunity for us to thank him for recognizing the importance of civil legal aid.  Last week, House 1 proposed $15.5 million for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).

Gov and BBA Banner

The most important part of the morning followed the pep talks from Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, BBA President James D. Smeallie and others, when attendees headed toward the offices of their lawmakers to continue the conversation about the need for civil legal aid funding.  As we described in Issue Spot before, making a personal connection and building a relationship with your own state senator and state representative is key to effective advocacy.

Ellen Kief, a member of the BBA’s Solo & Small Firm Section and a resident of Weston, met with her legislators, Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch. She shared her perspective on civil legal aid as a constituent and an attorney. In particular, Ellen emphasized her experience with immigration law and the positive impact that civil legal aid has had on her own clients.

Ellen Kief with Rep. Peisch

Meeting with a key staffer is just as important.  As Issue Spot has said in earlier posts, staff often makes recommendations and it’s a great way to get to know what’s important to your legislator.  BBA President J.D. Smeallie sat down with an aide to his state representative, Jerald Parisella. This was an opportunity for President Smeallie to make a direct connection with the person who advises the lawmaker.

JD and House aide 2

It was great to see advocacy in action as lawyers filled the State House halls.  These conversations will continue throughout the budget process that will run through the end of June.  We need to cultivate these relationships and circle back to our legislators between now and June in order to provide them with additional information and facts, tell stories and keep the dialogue and discussions going.  We need to arm them with the reasons why civil legal aid is important and should be one of their top budget priorities.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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2012 Public Policy by the Numbers

2012 was a productive year for the BBA, and Issue Spot would like to look back on the numbers.

2 Amicus Briefs – The BBA filed amicus briefs in Rachel A. Bird Anderson v. BNY Mellon, N.A. trustee and others and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The SJC referenced the BBA’s Bird brief in its decision this summer.  The BBA recruited 38 law firms, companies and organizations to join our Fisher brief and was one of 71 amici to file briefs in the high profile case.

2 Court Standing Orders – The Boston Municipal Court made permanent a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) sealing order and the Supreme Judicial Court instituted a pro hac vice admission fee which yielded $49,000 in the first quarter it was collected. Both standing orders were endorsed by the BBA.

7 Laws Took Effect – Seven pieces of legislation the BBA supported took effect in 2012.

 700 Attorneys Attended Walk to the Hill – Lawyers from across Massachusetts filled the State House for the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  More than 50 law firms and organizations were represented.

100+ Lawyers Attended Court Advocacy Day – More than 100 attorneys trekked to the State House to show support for adequate court funding.

2012 was a successful year and we are committed to topping these numbers for 2013.  We still have unfinished business in the Massachusetts Legislature. There are also emerging federal issues we are preparing to tackle.  But as 2012 wraps up, we have much to celebrate.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Breaking it Down, Knowing the Facts, Simplifying our Message

Earlier this week, the Legislature kicked off the Fiscal Year 2014 budget season with the Consensus Revenue Hearing.  This annual hearing came on the heels of last week’s announcement that there is a $540 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year – Fiscal Year 2013.  The goal of the Consensus Revenue Hearing is to gather information from experts and economists who opine on the local impact of national economic trends.  This information is then used to come up with an actual consensus revenue budget number.  The consensus revenue budget number represents the level of spending agreed upon by the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President, and is then used as the basis for the budgets proposed by the three branches.

It’s important that the consensus revenue process – and the ultimate consensus revenue number – is supported by outside experts.  The public needs to know that our state budget is grounded in facts and reason and not politics.

At the BBA, we’ve already been talking about the FY14 budget for weeks now.  As we do each year, we continue to meet with the leaders of the Judiciary to gather facts about the current state of our Massachusetts’ courts.  What we are learning from these meeting we are using – and will continue to use – to persuade legislative leaders that the entire justice system is underfunded.  All signals from the state on the budget front still point to things looking bleak.

Take a look at what our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition have been working on as they ramp up efforts for the FY14 budget.  They’ve prepared persuasive arguments that demonstrate the need for an increase in the state appropriation for legal services.  This week, the EJC released its latest fact sheet detailing the daunting financial burden placed on civil legal services organizations.  The fact sheet also shows how state money invested in civil legal services brings in new federal revenue and ultimately saves money for Massachusetts.

Our lawyers get it.  They understand the benefits associated with funding civil legal services programs and a lot of our lawmakers do too.  But as lawyers and constituents we need to make sure our legislators really get it.  Some legislators may not be as familiar with exactly how these civil legal service programs can help their constituents.

Check out the EJC’s clear and simple message contained in the FY14 Legislative Campaign Talking Points for the Private Bar also released this week.   It’s straightforward, hits the highpoints and also provides additional facts to back up the argument that an increase in civil legal aid for FY 14 is smart and a win-win for everyone.  The talking points provide lawyer-constituents with the necessary information to give a quick, concise pitch to their legislators for increased funding for legal aid.  The goal is to make sure that legislators understand the benefits of funding legal aid for their constituents, support it, and most importantly include an increase in funding for civil legal aid as one of their budget priorities when the time comes to discuss their own budget priorities with leadership.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Walk to the Hill: Then and Now

Just one week to go until Walk to the Hill. . . Next Thursday, January 26th, attorneys from across the Commonwealth will gather en mass for the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  The Boston Bar Association has been proud to support this lobbying event from its infancy.

Yes, some things have changed since the inaugural Walk to the Hill in 2000 – but the message remains the same: state funding for legal services – and the MLAC line item (0321-1600) – is essential to ensuring access to justice for all. This year, the funding request for the MLAC line item is $14.5 million.

Here are some facts…in 2000, Walk to the Hill was held in May and a handful of other local bar associations also joined the effort.  A mere 75 attorneys made the trek to the State House to urge lawmakers to adequately fund legal services.  General counsel from 14 companies signed on to a letter sent to then-Governor Paul Cellucci urging him to approve the budget with the $1 million bump the Legislature gave to MLAC intact.

Now, Walk to the Hill is scheduled for January to coincide with the start of the state budgeting season.  Last year, despite having been re-scheduled due to a snowstorm, more than 500 attorneys turned out for this event.  An additional 30 local and specialty bar associations from across the state co-sponsored it.  Our presence at Walk to the Hill helps to ensure that the MLAC line item is discussed throughout the budget process.

Funding for civil legal services has never been just a legal community issue.  The business community’s support for legal services is very important.  Today, the number of general counsel who sign on to the letter sent to the Legislature and Governor Patrick has grown from 14 to nearly 100 and includes the G.C.’s of Harvard University, John Hancock, EMC2, BJ’s Wholesale Club, National Grid and Sovereign Bank.

We measure our success not just by how much additional money is allocated for civil legal services or by how many attorneys show up for Walk to the Hill.  The efforts behind adequate funding for civil legal services don’t begin or end with Walk to the Hill but take place all year long.  We do a variety of things including meeting with Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Murray, Governor Patrick’s legal staff, and other members of the Legislature — trying to win support every step of the way.  The goal of these efforts is to educate and inform about the need for and the impact of legal services in these lawmakers’ own communities.  Adequately funding civil legal services is an investment in people and actually saves the Commonwealth money.  Not to mention the fact that there is no constituent service more important than civil legal aid.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Legal Services Corporation Needs a Lifeline

This week BBA President Lisa Goodheart sent a letter to Senator John Kerry and the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation requesting support and protection for the funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  As written about before on Issue Spot, support for legal services is a core part of the BBA’s mission and is a vital service to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Funding for civil legal assistance in Massachusetts is a partnership between federal, state and local governments as well as private attorneys and foundations.  The current economic climate has led to a substantial drop in resources for LSC programs due to both a 50 percent decrease in IOLTA revenue over the past two years and budgetary constraints among state and private contributors. All this comes at a time of unprecedented need – more than 1 in 5 Americans now qualify for legal assistance.

Legal services funding is not merely a spending issue.  LSC-funded programs in Massachusetts provide critical legal services to individuals who need it most, including victims of domestic violence, veterans returning from combat, those coping with the after-effects of natural disasters, persons with disabilities, and individuals undergoing foreclosures and evictions.  LSC funds four programs in Massachusetts – the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy – all of whom have already absorbed massive cuts to their budgets and staff.

Why is LSC funding in jeopardy now?  It all goes back to August when Congress, reaching a last-minute compromise on the debt ceiling crisis, established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  The Committee is made up of 12 lawmakers – including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry – who have been tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in budget savings by November 23rd.  If the Committee is unable to come up with the necessary savings, the difference will be made up by automatic spending cuts, divided evenly among domestic and defense programs.

Senator John Kerry and, in general, the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation have been supportive of legal services.  They understand that legal aid attorneys provide meaningful representation to people who have no place else to turn.  Despite the presence in Congress of legal aid advocates who appreciate the importance of legal services, the fiscal situation before the Committee is daunting.  Funding cuts threaten to adversely impact our neighbors, friends, families, and communities.  We need to do everything we can to ensure that the citizens of Massachusetts are able to receive the legal assistance they need.

 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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LSC Fighting Off Federal Cuts

Legal services providers face another yet another blow – following last week’s announcement that the new House Appropriations Committee has proposed a $70 million cut to the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) for Fiscal Year 2011.  This immediate cut would be catastrophic to the delivery of legal services in Massachusetts because it would mean an 18% reduction in LSC’s annual funding.  (Because we are already half way through the current fiscal year, legal services providers tell us this actually translates to a 36% cut.)

There have already been serious reductions in other funding sources upon which LSC-funded programs also depend – especially Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (“IOLTA”). As we noted in a previous post, record low interest rates and reductions in the number of real estate transactions have resulted in dwindling IOLTA revenues.

What the House Appropriations Committee proposed last week is in contrast to what President Obama’s unveiled his budget this week.  For Fiscal Year 2012, President Obama actually proposed an increase of $30 million for LSC.

LSC provides grants to independent local programs and currently funds 137 local programs, serving every county and Congressional district in the nation. LSC distributes 97% of the funds it receives to these programs.  Massachusetts has four LSC-funded programs: the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy.

If this mid-year cut goes through, the entire legal aid delivery system in Massachusetts will suffer.  LSC has a big budget battle ahead of it. The BBA has already tried to do its part.

Today (February 17th), BBA President Don Frederico sent every member of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation a letter urging no cuts in LSC funding. We will also join the American Bar Association in D.C. this April to lobby for funding for Fiscal Year 2012.  We urge Congress to adequately fund legal services to provide access to justice for poor people in the United States.

N.B. Some organizations in Massachusetts, such as Greater Boston Legal Services, do not receive LSC funding, and they still need our help.  That budget battle – to hold onto level funding – has just begun in the state Legislature.  Please be sure to join us next week at Walk to the Hill.  The event has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 22nd at 11:00 AM in the Great Hall at the State House.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Debunking Legal Aid Myths

On Monday, the Boston Herald’s website ran an item from the Associated Press mentioning Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ireland’s support for civil legal aid and his appearance at the Equal Justice Coalition’s annual Walk to the Hill.  The 4-sentence story generated a few reader comments demonstrating how little some people know about the important work of legal service lawyers in Massachusetts.

Sure, lawyers can be easy targets for people venting their frustrations, but sometimes that venting defies reason.  “If you (Chief Justice Ireland) and all your lawyer buddies who make mad money by charging crazy amounts/hour are so into helping the poor, then do it for free,” wrote Boston Dave.

Some lawyers certainly make good money working at private law firms. But really, BostonDave, those who dedicate each of their days to providing legal services to the poor barely enough to make ends meet.  Legal services organizations are hurting and the poor people that need legal services the most are hurting badly.

Another ill-informed Herald reader referenced the recent coverage of the MBTA putting cameras on buses and trains to stop people from filing frivolous law suits:  “I suppose that the MBTA can expect to see a gigantic rise in the filing of lawsuits, despite the presence of cameras in the buses,” wrote Jestme7284. “Now the people with the free lawyers will check to see if there is a camera before falling down.”

Just for the record, Jestme7284, legal service lawyers don’t do personal injury cases, which are handled by the private bar, typically on a contingency fee basis. Legal services lawyers represent clients in cases involving fundamental sustenance, such as housing, employment, access to government benefits, and domestic violence.

A word about the attorneys at big firms that show up at Walk to the Hill…Many of these lawyers give generously of their time, accepting pro bono assignments from organizations such as the Volunteer Lawyers Project. They also give generously of their money to charities providing legal aid for poor people.

At the Walk to the Hill event, they will take the time to meet with their legislators to talk about the importance of public funding for legal services.  Walk to the Hill is a symbolic showing of the legal profession’s solidarity in recognizing that everyone deserves access to justice – and not just those that can afford lawyers.

Unfortunately dumb jokes and ill-informed comments about lawyers are nothing new. But legal aid for the poor should be the one thing that all of us can agree is a good thing.  Alas this year the weather didn’t cooperate, and Walk to the Hill has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 22nd.  We hope you’ll show up and demonstrate your support for legal services.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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