Below is an excerpt from an October 6 interview, published by The Boston Globe, with Greater Boston Legal Services President Melissa Bayer Tearney.
Melissa Bayer Tearney, a partner at the Boston law firm Choate Hall & Stewart, was recently elected president of Greater Boston Legal Services for a three-year term. She has served on the board of the nonprofit legal services group for a decade and recently talked to Globe reporter Beth Healy about her new role and her goals for the organization.
What kinds of representation does Greater Boston Legal Services provide?
It’s a very wide range of services that touch all social issues that the community is very concerned about, including access to housing, which would be homelessness, evictions, work with the disabled, work with the elderly, work with the low-wage earner, work with unemployed, domestic violence victims. Immigration as well.
What’s the biggest challenge the group is facing?
The challenge in the next few years is increasing our philanthropic efforts beyond the legal community and to engage corporations in the city. I think, too, the challenge of trying to provide as many quality legal services to as many people as we possibly can, under very difficult financial situations.
The group has been hit with financial difficulties since the recession, hasn’t it?
Yes, like all legal service agencies, they’ve been hit by budget cuts and by the economy more generally. And cuts from [federal] sequestration should come into effect starting in September. It’s been a very rocky four or five years.
Is it funded entirely with public money, or do you raise money from private donors?
One of the main components of fund-raising comes from the area law firms. Most contribute very generously.
One of the challenges is trying to diversify philanthropic efforts. Not only focusing on law firms but also focusing on other corporations to see if they’re willing to step up to support legal services. The agency is turning away 60 percent of clients that are coming, so there’s a huge need.