Tag Archives: Legal Services Corporation

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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Legal Aid: Understand the Budget Process, Frame the Message Appropriately and Build the Business Case

Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), joined the BBA last week for a discussion on legal services.  LSC, the single largest provider of legal services in the United States, has 800 offices nationwide and supports 134 programs.  LSC ensures a baseline of support for legal aid nationwide. In some parts of the country, such as the Deep South or the mountainous West, LSC constitutes the sole source of legal aid funding.  While LSC is not a government agency, it does receive all of its funding from a congressional appropriation.  It is subject to congressional oversight thereby making a solid and bi-partisan relationship with Congress very important.

Here are some takeaways from Jim Sandman’s discussion…..

  • The first line of the United States Constitution establishes justice as the primary goal of our nation.  A well-functioning justice system with access for all is necessary in our democratic country. If we have no mechanism to enforce rights, these rights have no meaning.
  • Legal aid is not a social safety net.   Real change will only come when there is a shift in vocabulary used to discuss legal aid. Legal aid is an access to justice issue and the mission of legal aid organizations is to close the access to justice gap, not to serve as a poverty relief program.
  • The business case needs to be presented clearly. Measuring outcomes in this context will provide leaders in Congress and at the State level with quantifiable evidence of the benefits that come from legal aid. Statistics related to savings from legal aid in domestic violence or foreclosure cases, for example, provide the concrete foundation for increasing funding to organizations that provide this aid.
  • We need stories and examples for the business community to demonstrate their interest in this area.  One familiar example of the business community’s interest is that of the employee who is also the victim of domestic violence.  With the help of a legal aid attorney, this employee is able to obtain a restraining order and is able to continue employment while avoiding hospital costs.

Jim Sandman is optimistic about the upcoming fiscal year. President Obama has signaled that funding for legal services is important and has recommended $430 million in LSC funding in his budget proposal.  $430 million is substantially more than what LSC has received in recent years.  It’s projected that the Senate budget this year will be as high as the President’s recommendation.  This should raise the ceiling on the House’s budget number. Since the final budget number is usually half way between the House’s proposal and the Senate’s proposal, this may result in a higher overall appropriation for LSC.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Legal Services Corporation Seeking More Federal Funds

On Monday, President Obama released his budget for Fiscal Year 2013.  The $3.8 trillion budget included $402 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – which is a 15% increase over LSC’s current budget of $348 million.  While any increase can be viewed as good news, President Obama’s plan provides $68 million less than the LSC budget request of $470 million for FY 2013.  As we’ve written about before in Issue Spot, 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.  These programs provide essential services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

LSC funding was approximately $404 million in FY 2011 before falling to $348 million last year.  According to the LSC press release sent out on Monday, that drop has resulted in attorney layoffs at legal services programs across the country and the closure or projected closure of 18% of LSC-funded programs.

How is the BBA helping?  As part of our commitment to LSC, we participate in a grassroots legislative advocacy effort coordinated by the American Bar Association (ABA).  We’ve been doing this since 2002 when the BBA Council voted to join the ABA in advocating on behalf of civil legal services provided through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding.

When the ABA approached the BBA to get involved, Senator Edward Kennedy – a leading advocate for the creation of LSC back in the 1970’s – and Senator John Kerry were already very involved in this issue.  The ABA hoped to get enough support in the Senate to help build a broad based coalition in the House during the final budget deliberation.  Since then, the BBA has joined with the ABA and other bar leaders in lobbying efforts for LSC funding every year.  In April, we will travel to Washington D.C. again to take part in ABA Day.  We will spend time with our congressional delegation discussing the importance of civil legal aid.

In most cases, we will be thanking our delegation for their continued support of legal services and describe the current state of civil legal services in Massachusetts.  We’ll also ask them to make funding for LSC a priority and discuss it with their colleagues who may not hold support for civil legal aid in the same regard.  Being from Massachusetts, we’re often told how different our experience is from our bar colleagues in other parts of the United States.  There isn’t always a shared appreciation between the bar and members of Congress for the need for funding for civil legal services.  Even though the BBA’s job may be comparatively easier, it’s just as critical that we are there in person delivering the important message to our delegation.  This year we will ask our delegation to support a 35% increase to bring LSC funding to the requested level of $470 million.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
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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