Tag Archives: MLAC

Senate Budget Update

The Senate Ways & Means Committee released its budget this week.  Read our budget breakdown here.  Here’s what we are watching in the Senate budget:

  • MLAC was level funded at $13 million; this is $4 million below their request of $17 million.  Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Cynthia Creem are filing an amendment requesting an increase of this budget line to $17 million.
  • The Trial Court received approximately $617 million, which is about $9 million more than the House budget.  This difference will have to be worked out in a budget conference committee.
  • CPCS received approximately $180 million.  While this funding amount is substantially higher than the funding it received in 2013, the final FY 2014 General Appropriations Act, and this year’s FY2015 House budget recommendation, it falls short of CPCS’s budget request.  This amount does not provide any additional funding for increased attorney compensation.  Several legislators are considering filing amendments to increase this line item.
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Budget Update

Following up on our previous FY15 budget post, the House approved an amendment on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 increasing the MLAC budget line by $2 million, bringing the total funding amount to $15 million.  Here is the MLAC funding breakdown so far: 

  • MLAC Budget Request: $17 million
  • House Budget: $15 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget: $13 million
  • Governor’s Budget: $14 million

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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The Spirit of Boston

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh made “spirit” the focal point of his speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Forum this week.  Just over 100 days into his tenure as Mayor, he spoke with pride and awe about serving as one of Boston’s chief public servants.

He described his four priorities:

Strengthening our economy and creating jobs,

Improving public safety and stopping gun violence

Ensuring our public schools help every child succeed, and,

Increasing trust and transparency in city government.

He also talked about some of the challenges he’s faced in his first few months – the tragic loss of a child to gun violence, the loss of two firefighters in the Beacon Street fire, and a Boston police officer who died on duty.

Mayor Walsh emphasized the importance of getting more summer jobs for Boston’s youth.  He asked every business in the room to hire a Boston public school student for the summer in order to provide meaningful opportunities for our city’s young people.  There are often young people that do not have someone at home to guide and direct them, and Boston businesses can make the difference in a young person’s life.  Mayor Walsh stressed that we need to have our next generation of Boston’s leaders reflect the diversity of the city.  While recognizing the many Boston businesses that have already supported the summer jobs program, he talked about the importance of continuing the atmosphere of business and city collaboration.  We are honored to assist law firms in facilitating their participation in this program.

Mayor Walsh envisions changes in City Hall that will support business, including increasing certainty and transparency.  He hopes to give everyone a seat at the table by opening up regulation processes so that the city will be more partner than adversary.  He touted development through ongoing construction projects in downtown Boston and surrounding communities as well as increasing the use of advanced technology, spearheaded by the city’s newest position, Chief Digital Officer.

Finally, the new Mayor ended his speech by telling the stories of three Boston companies:

  • Liberty Mutual – started in Boston by three people looking to pool their insurance costs and now employs more than 50,000
  • Wayfair.com – founded in a South End apartment and now an online furniture company valued at more than $1 billion
  • The yet-to-be-formed company – it exists as only as an idea in the minds of a group of college students in the Boston area.  They need access to capital, a pool of smart and talented employees, world class infrastructure, housing options, and a productive partner in city hall to succeed –

The spirit of Boston is what makes these stories possible and the commitment to progress that will make them endure.

Our members infuse the BBA with the impressive spirit of the Boston legal community.  They provide constant reminders of why the city is a paragon of ethical practice, innovative litigation, and charitable giving both in money and service by firms, corporations, and practitioners devoted to their communities.

We look forward to serving the legal community and promoting its continued evolution to meet the needs of these businesses and contribute to our dynamic, thriving city.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Justice System FY15 Budget Update

Last week the House Ways and Means Committee released its FY2015 budget proposal, which made a number of significant investments targeted to support local aid, substance abuse, behavioral and mental health, and higher education, while reducing reliance on one-time resources.  For our chief areas of interest in the justice system — judiciary funding in the form of: the trial court, legal services, and state attorneys — a number of challenges remain.  Here is the breakdown:

Trial Court funding

The Trial Court requested maintenance funding of $615 million for FY15.  This is the amount of money it would take for the Court to continue running at current capacity.  In addition, it proposed 10 “modules,” essentially packages of ideas and their costs that it could implement if funded, to update and innovate the courts.  These included plans for court service centers, specialty courts, electronic signage and information kiosks, and telecommunication enhancements.  The price for each module ranged from around $400,000 to $6.5 million.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways and Means – $617 million
  • House Budget – $609 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $609 million – this amount is roughly $6 million less than the maintenance request, but still includes $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.
  • Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million – this amount represents maintenance funding and an additional $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Funding

MLAC requested $17 million for FY15.  This amount would cover current costs and allow for the hiring of 40 more attorneys in addition to offering some future stability.  This funding level would expand the amount of services its programs could provide to vulnerable residents across the state and also help boost the state economy.  As funding for civil legal aid has declined, mostly through a large drop in IOLTA revenue, the economic benefits resulting from civil legal aid have also dropped.  At the same time, the need for civil legal aid has grown — close to 1 million people in Massachusetts qualify for this aid, and programs currently turn away 50 to 70 percent of eligible residents.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Creem will file an amendment which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.
  • House Budget – $15 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser has filed an amendment (#157) which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.  We sent out an action alert to our members last week and received a number of positive responses.  Thank you to everyone who reached out to their representatives.  Fifty Representatives signed on to the amendment, and they can continue to sign-on in the coming weeks, so if you don’t see your representative’s name (don’t know their name?  Look them up here) on the amendment, please reach out.
  • Governor’s Budget – $14 million – only $1 million more than last year’s funding level and $3 million below MLAC’s request.

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Funding

CPCS requested a total budget of $219,399,885 for FY15.  Its maintenance request was $206,629,539.  The $12.7 million difference was to increase staff compensation and private bar hourly rates.  It is important to note when understanding CPCS’s line item that while the Governor’s budget attempts to account for the entire budget, the House Ways and Means recommendation underfunds the private counsel account because CPCS is considered a case-driven account for budgeting purposes.  This means that since CPCS cannot predict with exact certainty how many cases it will have to serve, it is provided with an initial appropriation with the understanding that, similar to other case-driven accounts, CPCS will submit supplemental increase requests as the fiscal year progresses.  The Legislature and Governor have consistently honored and funded these requests.  Neither the Governor nor the House Ways and Means budget propose any changes to the current CPCS service delivery system.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
  • House Budget$168 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $168 million appropriation.  This is an increase of approximately $5.6 million over the FY14 appropriation but is not enough to fund CPCS’s requested changes.  Representative Angelo M. Scaccia has filed two amendments that would achieve the CPCS salary and hourly rate increases.
  • Governor’s Budget – $191 million total appropriation.  This is a $29 million increase from the FY14 general appropriation, but is not sufficient to fund the requested increases for staff compensation or increases in hourly rates for assigned private counsel.

The House budget debate will take place during the week of April 28 to May 2.  The Senate will release its budget a couple weeks later, around May 14.  As always, we will keep you posted on the latest developments.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Justice System Salaries: Spotlight on Civil Legal Aid Programs

When we talk about civil legal aid, inevitably the conversation focuses on clients and funding.  In Massachusetts, there are approximately 1.7 civil legal aid lawyers for every 10,000 people living under the federal poverty level.  To put that into context with the general population, there are about 70 lawyers for every 10,000 people.  Yet while the need for civil legal aid attorneys is immense, their pay is startlingly low.  The starting salary for civil legal aid attorneys is only slightly higher than those of public defenders and assistant district attorneys.  The pay for support staff is equally low.

With the reality of limited resources and growing needs, making a career in legal services often comes at great personal sacrifice.  As a result, many legal service employees have experienced financial struggles.  About 1 in 5 civil legal aid attorneys carry the burden of large law school debts, and some junior attorneys have refinanced their student loans over a longer time frame, some up to 30 years, to reduce the monthly payments.  A significant number of civil legal aid employees have withdrawn money from their retirement accounts to meet daily living expenses.  Imagine not being able to pay for a monthly T pass to get to work.  These are stories that we heard firsthand at the Boston Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society’s program, The State of Legal Aid in Massachusetts: Opportunities and Challenges.  Like assistant district attorneys and public defenders, many staff and attorneys at our civil legal aid programs have taken second jobs just to get by.

In the past six years, the programs have done very little hiring due to budget cuts.  At most programs, staff took a 5 percent pay cut, this after 2 years of frozen salaries.  At least one program cut salaries to 80 percent.  Salary levels have since been restored, at least partially.  However, when there have been funds to hire new attorneys, it has been difficult to recruit them without some kind of loan forgiveness support from their law schools or the benefit of a fellowship program.  MLAC offers some limited loan assistance and in fiscal year 2013, they were able to assist 21 attorneys with loan payments.

Starting salaries are just part of the problem; attrition is another.  New attorneys are hired and trained and often leave for higher paying positions within a few years of starting.  This turnover makes it especially hard to establish a new core of experienced attorneys who are experts in their fields.

Greater Boston Legal Services, the biggest legal aid program in the state, has been spending its reserves to keep staff, and even so, GBLS hasn’t been able to stem the tide of lawyers leaving.  If GBLS faces these problems, consider the issues confronting smaller programs in other parts of Massachusetts.

Though senior civil legal aid attorneys make slightly higher salaries, they are not immune from these struggles.  Legal aid attorneys are not state employees and therefore do not take part in the state retirement benefit structure.  This means that a number of civil legal aid attorneys in their 60s and 70s face impending retirement with nothing but social security and their personal savings.

One only needs to look around to see the important work of legal aid attorneys, from neighbors staying in their homes, to the sick receiving medical care, to handicap accessibility renovations for buildings and public spaces.  Civil legal aid attorneys provide social values far beyond their meager pay, and thus it is essential that we keep them in mind when we talk about the delivery of justice.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Governor’s Budget and Walk to the Hill

Yesterday Governor Patrick released his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget –his final budget before he leaves office.  While Governor Patrick’s $36.4 billion budget focuses heavily on education and investments in the life sciences, we were pleased to see his proposals in the area of criminal justice.  One proposal would provide a modest increase in spending to help former inmates successfully reintegrate into society.  Another proposal included $7 million for a program to reduce juvenile recidivism. 

Here’s what the Governor recommended for the Trial Court and for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation:

The Massachusetts Trial Court

We are glad to see that Governor Patrick proposed funding the Massachusetts Trial Court at their maintenance budget request of $615 million plus an additional $2 million for specialty courts.   A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year and takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors. 

Developing effective specialty courts and expanding the ones we already have in the areas of drug, mental health, homelessness and veterans issues is a great investment.  Nationally, these courts have proven effective at reducing recidivism, shortening jail stays, saving money, and helping convicts return to society.  The additional funding will help expand the Massachusetts specialty courts program, standardizing it across the state in the areas most in need, and pay for data collection to study its effects to assure that Massachusetts achieves the best results. 

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

Governor Patrick also recommended $14 million in funding for MLAC.  While this represents a $1 million increase over last year’s appropriation, this level of funding is $3 million shy of MLAC’s $17 million budget request, meaning legal services programs will still struggle to meet even half of the overwhelming need for civil legal services. 

Our attention now turns to the Legislature.  We need to persuade both the House and Senate to hold onto the $617 million for the Trial Court and to include the full $17 million in funding for MLAC.  The House Budget will come out first in April, followed by the Senate budget in May.  

With one week to go before Walk to the Hill, we need your help.  Join us at the Great Hall of the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th as we kick off this event, then talk to your legislator.  But this year, we urge you to also commit to continue those conversations throughout the budget process.  That is the real challenge. 

You can help us — become an advocate.  Let your legislators know you pay attention to their voting and you care about this issue. 

Become a resource.  As a lawyer and community member, who better to keep your legislators informed on, say, how an increase in pro se litigants affects justice, the court system, your own work, and the citizens of the Commonwealth? 

Become an ally.  Personal relationship building goes a long way in any profession – politics is no different.

Here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of interacting with your elected officials and/or their staff on Walk to the Hill day and beyond.

  – Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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A Backgrounder on Civil Legal Services Funding in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) 

MLAC was established in 1983 by the Legislature to provide funds for civil legal assistance to poor people throughout Massachusetts. It is governed by a board of directors approved by the SJC and distributes, in addition to IOLTA funds, state appropriated funds to legal service providers.  MLAC is the largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth.

MLAC’s revenue comes from the state budget, the IOLTA program and the Board of Bar Overseers dues add-on program.  The decline in Interest On Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) funds has resulted in a MLAC cutting grants to the legal aid programs it funds by 54%.

MLAC funds 16 legal aid programs that provide information, advice and representation to low-income people with critical, non-criminal problems.

Community Legal Aid Greater Boston Legal Services
Boston College Legal Assistance Bureau Community Legal Services and Counseling Center
MetroWest Legal Services Neighborhood Legal Services
Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts Merrimack Valley-North Shore Legal Services
South Coastal Counties Legal Services Center for Law and Education
Center for Public Representation Disability Law Center
Massachusetts Advocates for Children Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
National Consumer Law Center Prisoners’ Legal Services

MLAC funds three projects, which are run by the staff of legal services programs in local offices around the state:

  • Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project
  • Disability Benefits Project
  • Medicare Advocacy Project

MLAC state funding: FY2013 $12 million; total grants for FY2013 are just over $16 million.

Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA)

The Massachusetts IOLTA program was created in 1985 by the Supreme Judicial Court.  IOLTA is not unique to Massachusetts.  The first IOLTA program was established in Florida in 1981. Since then, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted IOLTA programs.

In 1990, the SJC converted IOLTA from a voluntary program to a “comprehensive” program.  As a result, lawyers and law firms are required to establish interest-bearing accounts for client deposits.  These funds must be placed either in an account which pays interest to the client or in an IOLTA account. An IOLTA account is selected if the funds are relatively modest, or large amounts held by the lawyer for only a short period.

Each IOLTA deposit earns a very small amount of interest.  It is the money accumulated from pooled IOLTA accounts that allows the IOLTA committee to make its distributions to support law-related public service programs.  Over 200 banking institutions maintained an average of 14,000 IOLTA accounts across the state this year.

The Supreme Judicial Court limits the use of IOLTA to two purposes: 1) to provide civil legal services to low-income clients and 2) to improve the administration of justice.  The IOLTA committee distributes all IOLTA interest to three charitable entities that then use the IOLTA funds to make grants to local civil legal services programs:

  • Boston Bar Foundation (7%)
  • Massachusetts Bar Foundation (26%)
  • Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (67%)

IOLTA operates on a calendar year.  The very low currently available interest rates and a period of declining real estate transactions have caused a notable reduction in the revenue on which the IOLTA program depends.

  • In 2007, interest on IOLTA accounts totaled $31.8 million
  • In 2011, interest on IOLTA accounts totaled $7.5 million
  • In 2012, interest on IOLTA accounts totaled $6.9 million

Legal Services Corporation (LSC)

LSC is a private, non-profit corporation created by the United States Congress during the Nixon administration and is funded through the congressional appropriations process.  Although LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income people in the United States it provides only about 15% of the funding for legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

LSC provides funding to independent local legal services programs through a competitive grant process and currently funds 134 independent legal aid organizations.

LSC distributes federal funding for civil legal aid and is governed by federal law.  LSC imposes restrictions on recipients of any LSC grant funds and not just on LSC money but on all of a particular program’s funds.  These restrictions prohibit LSC-funded organizations from engaging in lobbying, advocacy,, general impact work and from representing certain otherwise eligible low-income people.

In Massachusetts, the 4 LSC grantees are:

  • Massachusetts Justice Project, Inc.
  • Merrimack Valley Legal Services, Inc.
  • South Coastal Counties Legal Services
  • Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association

LSC funding for FY13: $4,778,860

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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