Former Chief Justice headlines kick-off event for Walk to the Hill

Leaders from Massachusetts law firms and law schools gathered at the offices of Ropes & Gray this morning for the Equal Justice Coalition’s “Captains’ Breakfast”—an annual event in the EJC’s legislative budget campaign that sparks the legal community’s advocacy for civil legal aid. Participants celebrated past successes, heard from legal aid advocates, and discussed strategies for talking with elected officials about the importance of increasing state funding for civil legal aid in Massachusetts. These ‘Captains’ will now return to their firms and organize their colleagues to attend the EJC’s Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid at the State House on January 24 — one of the largest lobby days of the year, and a show of solidarity for the principle of access to justice for all.

Headlining this morning’s breakfast program was Margaret Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a longstanding champion of civil legal aid in Massachusetts. Drawing on her own experience fighting apartheid in South Africa decades ago, Chief Justice Marshall spoke passionately about the importance of making small, persistent steps toward justice. “We Americans like fast results, but the work you are engaged in is not fast,” she said.

Ms. Marshall emphasized that there are times in everyone’s lives when they will need a lawyer, recalling when she hired an elder law attorney to help her navigate legal issues for her elderly mother. “I need a lawyer. You need a lawyer. Everyone needs a lawyer,” she said.

Jacquelynne Bowman, Greater Boston Legal Services’ executive director, explained the challenges that low-income people face — both economically and as they attempt to navigate the complex civil justice system. Bowman made it clear that Massachusetts legal aid organizations desperately need a funding increase to help more people who are in desperate circumstances. GBLS, like many legal aid organizations, has not had adequate resources to replace all the lawyers who were laid off in the last recession. “We need to increase the number of advocates for legal aid,” she said.

The EJC also presented awards to law firms that had exceptional participation in last year’s Walk to the Hill. The winners were:

– Ropes & Gray, which won the Highest Participation Award
– University of Massachusetts School of Law, which won the Law School Participation Award
– Morgan Lewis, which won the Exceptional Support Award
– Fitch Law Partners, which won the Nancy King Award (for the highest percentage of their firm’s attorneys attending the Walk)
– Hogan Lovells, CMBG3 Law, and Robinson + Cole, who each earned the Team Advocacy Award by having every one of their attorneys in attendance meet with a legislator.

The EJC is grateful for its partnership with all of the law firms and law schools that participate in the Walk to the Hill, and we look forward to seeing everyone for this year’s Walk on January 24!

For photos from this morning’s event, and other updates from the EJC, check out our Facebook page.