Funding cuts force layoffs, closings at Legal Services (South Coast Today)

Below is an excerpt from a March 12 article, published by South Coast Today, about the effect of funding challenges at South Coastal Counties Legal Services. Richard McMahon, Executive Director of SCCLS, is quoted.


NEW BEDFORD — The same recession that caused many low-income and elderly persons to seek free legal help with their worsening problems is undermining the very agency that is supposed to be there to help them.

South Coastal Counties Legal Services Inc., or SCCLS, which once had offices throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, has been forced to lay off 10 attorneys, secretaries and paralegals and close three offices, including the one in New Bedford, Executive Director Richard McMahon told The Standard-Times.

The remaining employees are trying to handle the work load and yet are being cut 9 percent in their pay.

The agency’s office on Union Street has been shuttered even though the agency owns the property, McMahon said.

“At least the initial contact is by phone,” McMahon said. The head office in Fall River will take the New Bedford calls, and send attorneys to the clients as needed.

The Plymouth office was closed late last year, McMahon said, and the Taunton office will close in a matter of weeks.

That will leave offices in Fall River, Hyannis and Brockton.

McMahon did not provide financial details, except to say that the losses came in grants and federal aid while state funding remained level.

“This is a real blow, of course, at a time when the economy is impacting the low-income community. There’s an increase and greater demand for our services and yet we’re laying off.”

McMahon said that there is a misconception that legal advice is free to the poor by right, but that only applies to cases that threaten their liberty, mostly criminal cases. In civil matters they must depend on nonprofits such as the SCCLS or on attorneys who do pro bono, “for free,” work as a way of giving back to the community.

Read more at South Coast Today.