Massachusetts State House

MLAC praises Senate Ways and Means for recommending $29M for Civil Legal Aid

In wake of COVID, demand for legal aid surges

Today the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, including $29 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 0321-1600 – a $5 million increase over FY 20.

“This funding increase is vital, and we thank Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing it,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on low-income people in the Commonwealth. This funding increase will help legal aid lawyers across the state provide essential services to protect people at risk of losing their housing, access to benefits, and other protections.”

Parker also extended her gratitude to the many Senators who support this increased funding and recognize the extraordinary work that legal aid lawyers have been doing in their communities during the pandemic.

She also thanked the Equal Justice Coalition that has championed the crucial work of civil legal aid during the COVID-19 crisis, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations in every corner of the Commonwealth.

“Civil legal aid is an essential service that has been helping vulnerable people in every part of the Commonwealth resolve serious legal issues that threaten people’s health, safety, and financial stability. This budget recognizes that the surge of need is ongoing and that front-line legal aid lawyers and advocates are a vital part of the state’s response to and recovery from this crisis,” Parker said.

MLAC applauds $29M for Civil Legal Aid in House Ways and Means Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 5, 2020
Contact: Michelle Deakin
mdeakin@mlac.org

MLAC applauds $29M for Civil Legal Aid in House Ways and Means Budget

In COVID’s wake, grateful for funding needed more than ever, says Lynne Parker

BOSTON, November 5, 2020 — Today the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, including $29 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 0321-1600 – a $5 million increase over FY 20.

Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC applauded the funding increase, calling it an important recognition of the devastating impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on low-income people. “We thank House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing additional funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that is needed now more than ever,” she said. “They recognize the need for this additional funding to aid vulnerable people at risk of losing their income, benefits, housing, and other necessary protections to keep them safe and healthy during the pandemic.”

Parker also thanks many members of the House for their support of this increased funding, noting how many legislators appreciate the work done for their communities through local civil legal aid offices. She also praises the Equal Justice Coalition that has championed the essential work of civil legal aid during the pandemic, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations in every corner of the Commonwealth.

“This budget recognizes the surge of need for civil legal aid and will help MLAC fund front-line lawyers and advocates to assist thousands more people who otherwise would not receive assistance in resolving serious legal issues that threaten their health, safety, and financial stability,” Parker said.

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About MLAC The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth established MLAC in 1983 to ensure that low-income people facing critical non-criminal legal issues would have access to legal information, advice, and representation. For more info, please visit mlac.org

On Twitter @CivilLegalAid

A civil justice crisis is coming – Much greater funding for legal aid is needed

This piece was published by Commonwealth Magazine on September 10, 2020

Susan Finegan and Lynne Parker

THE COVID-19 CRISIS has come at Massachusetts in waves: a public health emergency, an economic collapse, a widening of racial disparities, and now, an overwhelming need for legal help. In response, the Commonwealth must fully support the essential work of civil legal aid, which helps low-income people retain housing, stay safe from domestic abuse, appeal rejected claims for unemployment and other public benefits, and resolve a host of other civil legal problems that are growing in the virus’s wake. As a result of the pandemic, the rising demand for civil legal aid in Massachusetts is straining existing resources and requires greater funding on the state level.

We are in this pandemic together, but we’re not all in it equally. Legal aid lawyers serve as essential workers on the front line, sounding the alarm that a justice crisis is imminent, disproportionately threatening the health, safety, and financial stability of low-income people—particularly low-income people of color. Systemic racism, underscored by recent protests following the deaths of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other black people, permeates every aspect of society. And low-income people of all racial identities often lack the resources to maintain their financial stability through a major illness or job loss.

Civil legal issues can be serious and life-altering. But unlike in criminal cases, where lawyers are provided for people who cannot afford them, there is no constitutional right to a lawyer in every civil case. Even before the crisis, lean funding limited capacity and forced legal aid organizations to turn away the majority of low-income people who sought help. For those who can get help, civil legal aid organizations provide advice and representation at no cost to low-income residents. When the pandemic hit Massachusetts, legal aid organizations across the state mobilized to help people stave off unlawful eviction, file for unemployment, obtain restraining orders, and navigate matters in immigration court. The need is enormous and still growing, overtaxing legal aid organizations that were already stretched thin. The efforts of volunteer lawyers, while essential, cannot come close to meeting the need.

The faltering economy and skyrocketing unemployment mean more people in Massachusetts will be eligible for legal aid than before the coronavirus struck. Many will be families who had never turned to public benefits, but who now need help receiving benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, or unemployment insurance. A tidal wave of eviction and foreclosure cases is building. While Massachusetts has placed a temporary moratorium on evictions, mounting debt puts tenants at grave risk of homelessness when it expires.

The growing number of people who urgently need assistance includes people trapped with an abusive partner; students with disabilities, who still have a right to an equal education; older adults vulnerable to neglect; consumers confronted with scams or unexpected debt; prisoners, whose sentence should not include a life-threatening illness; and undocumented immigrants facing the prospect of deportation amid a global emergency.

The Massachusetts Legislature has consistently demonstrated broad support for legal aid. That said, the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 will continue to generate a surge of need that will overwhelm our legal aid system unless adequate funding is provided. Substantial and sustained support for civil legal aid must be part of the Commonwealth’s answer to the pandemic.

Just as doctors and nurses warned us about the public health emergency they knew was coming, civil legal aid lawyers now warn us of a civil justice crisis that is crashing upon Massachusetts. If we ignore these warnings, the consequences will be dire for families across the state. We must listen to these frontline responders and provide the resources they need to deliver justice for all.

Susan Finegan is a partner at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo and co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. Lynne Parker is executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.

COVID shows why we need legal aid for civil cases like evictions: Rep. Joe Kennedy

Right to counsel should be guaranteed in non-criminal cases involving basic human needs like food, shelter, employment, health care and physical safety.

In the throes of the Great Recession a decade ago, I stood in a cramped courtroom at Boston Housing Court next to my client, a single mom of two from Dorchester, Massachusetts. For the second time in a year, she was being kicked out of her home because the homeowner she was renting from fell behind on the mortgage payments.

She couldn’t bear the thought of uprooting her kids again in the middle of the school year. So she stayed, despite the eviction notice. Then the loan servicer illegally changed the locks while she was at the grocery store. The fire department had to come break down the door. One of her sons had a nervous breakdown at school the next day.

Now, she was in court. Though she had done nothing wrong. Though she worked hard and paid her rent. Here she was, about to lose the roof over her head…. Read more in USA Today.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Calls for Increased Civil Legal Aid at Walk to the Hill

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants joined hundreds of attorneys, law students and others last week in calling for increased state funding for civil legal aid to vulnerable low income Massachusetts residents in need at the annual Walk to the Hill at the Massachusetts State House.

“The good news is that the legislature in the past few years has been great to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation; between fiscal years 2018 and 2020 the legislature has substantially increased the amount appropriated to MLAC,” Chief Justice Gants said. “We are blessed with a legislature that knows the importance of civil legal aid to this Commonwealth and has acted on that knowledge. Our legislators ‘get it’…But that good news is also the bad news, because it means that legal services still turn away more than half of the eligible persons who come to them seeking legal assistance.”

Organized by the Equal Justice Coalition, the event called for increased funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in the state, by $5 million in the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget, for a total appropriation of $29 million… Read more in The Chelsea Record.

Chief Justice Gants, hundreds of attorneys call for increased civil legal aid funding at Walk to the Hill

Advocates request $29 million to expand access to representation in FY21

Kenda Cluff, a client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, speaks at Walk to the Hill. Photo Credit: Elbert John

Tenants are fighting evictions in the midst of a housing crisis. Veterans are battling war-time injuries and legal issues. And a growing senior population is facing poverty and serious legal problems. Those are just some of the reasons the Commonwealth should provide more funding for civil legal aid, said Chief Justice Ralph Gants at the 21st annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid at the Massachusetts State House on January 30.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants

Chief Justice Ralph Gants speaks at Walk to the Hill. Photo credit: Jeffrey Thiebauth

Chief Justice Gants spoke in support of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s request of $29 million for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth’s FY21 budget—an increase of $5 million compared to current funding levels. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts.

Approximately 700 people—attorneys from nearly 40 firms and companies, law students (including 95 from the University of Massachusetts School of Law), legal aid staff, and advocates—gathered for the annual lobby day.

Kenda Cluff, a mother of four young children and a client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, described how legal aid lawyers helped her end an abusive marriage, gain sole custody of her children, and prevail in a lawsuit filed by her former in-laws seeking her share of the divorce settlement.

Kenda Cluff

Kenda Cluff shares how civil legal aid helped her and her children. Photo credit: Elbert John

“I know there are many people out there who are desperate to get out of awful situations like mine,” Cluff said. “The work these legal aid lawyers do is so important. It has a generational effect. My children’s lives are completely changed because of the help we received from legal aid. Without legal aid, my three daughters would think abuse is acceptable. My son would think it is okay to be abandoned or to abandon. I’ve given them new opportunity to move into a different direction in life. These types of changes have a ripple effect in this world.”

Unfortunately, insufficient funding for legal aid organizations forces them to turn away the majority of eligible people who seek help, Chief Justice Gants said. He urged the attorneys and law students gathered in the Hall of Flags to advocate on their behalf: “You speak not for yourselves, but for all those who have neither money nor power, but who might have the law on their side, if only they knew how to use it.”

Gants also emphasized the economic benefits that civil legal aid brings to Massachusetts and its residents: “Remember that a dollar devoted to legal aid is not merely an investment in justice; it has also been proven to be a sound economic investment that returns roughly between two and five dollars to the Commonwealth for each dollar spent.”

Civil legal aid organizations have received funding increases from the legislature in recent years, and speakers noted the continued need for that support. “More money for legal aid means more qualified people who get a lawyer,” said Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of MLAC, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.

UMass Law students

More than 90 students of the University of Massachusetts School of Law advocated for legal aid at the state house. Photo credit: Elbert John

Legal aid makes a “long-term difference in the lives of low-income residents in the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “One of the greatest strengths of legal aid advocates is their expertise, their capacity to confront and overcome the challenges that face our clients – life-threatening housing conditions, homelessness, domestic violence, deportation, loss of employment, elder abuse and neglect.”

Parker added, “Legal aid is vital to the health of our communities, the health of the judicial system, and the state’s commitment to access to justice.”

Christine Netski, president of the Boston Bar Association, said a growing number of immigrants are overwhelmed by the prospect of facing the court system alone. She recounted the story of Daniela, a young woman from Brazil who had become pregnant with twins as the result of a sexual assault. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began removal proceedings, but with the help of MetroWest Legal Services, she was able to avoid deportation and obtain a U visa. She now has steady employment and is working on her high school diploma.

“Immigration issues like those faced by Daniela are especially prevalent today,” said Netski, noting that the MLAC-funded Greater Boston Immigration Defense Fund is “one of the great legal services programs working to increase access to the justice system for members of our immigrant communities.”

Massachusetts Bar Association President John J. Morrissey lauded the pro bono efforts of lawyers across the state to provide free representation to unrepresented civil litigants. “But efforts of our volunteers alone cannot reach the goal of providing vital legal services to people in need,” he said. “We need more funding for civil legal aid programs so that legal aid attorneys don’t have to turn away more than half of the people that come to them.”

In closing, Cluff, the client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, said, “I have no idea how much the help from the lawyers at South Coastal Counties would have cost. But it is priceless to me. It is my hope that sharing my story in front of so many unfamiliar faces will help a mother out there who is not willing to take another turn in an awful cycle of abuse.”

Chief Justice Gants, Bar Leaders Rally Jan. 30 for Civil Legal Aid Funding

At 21st annual Walk to the Hill, hundreds of attorneys to advocate for $29M for Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON (January 23, 2020) – Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, bar association leaders, and law students will join hundreds of private attorneys from more than 36 law firms at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. for the 21st Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Attendees at this annual lobby day will request a $5 million increase in state funding for programs that provide civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts residents.

“Legal aid providers funded by MLAC are on the front lines combatting the challenges of our turbulent times: eviction and homelessness arising from rising rents, deportation and family separation resulting from ICE’s immigration policies, elder abuse and domestic violence, families torn apart by opioid abuse, veterans struggling with physical, mental health, financial, and legal problems arising from their military service,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants. “Fighting the good fight requires more than dedication, courage, and perseverance, which legal aid providers have in abundance; it requires funding sufficient to give them the staff and the resources they need to achieve justice.”

In addition to Chief Justice Gants, speakers at the Walk to the Hill will include: Christine Netski, president of the Boston Bar Association; and John Morrissey, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

“Civil legal aid is essential to help people in crisis avoid homelessness and unemployment and gain access to essential benefits and services, including veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and quality education. Legal aid lawyers also support survivors of domestic violence, older adults living in poverty, and immigrants,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Civil legal aid is often life changing for people, creating stability and opportunity – and delivering hope and justice”

Following the speaking program, attorneys will visit their legislators and urge them to provide a $5 million increase in funding for MLAC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Massachusetts, for a total appropriation of $29 million in the FY21 state budget.

Walk to the Hill is sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The event is co-sponsored by numerous county and specialty bar associations throughout Massachusetts.

SPEAKING PROGRAM
11:30 to 12:10 pm
Great Hall of Flags
Massachusetts State House, Boston

The order of speakers is:
• Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition
• Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
• Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Supreme Judicial Court
• Christine Netski, President, Boston Bar Association
• John Morrissey, President, Massachusetts Bar Association
• A client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services
• Jacquelynne Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program.

About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice
Media contact:
Michelle Deakin
617-391-5627
mdeakin@mlac.org
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MLAC response to Governor’s Budget recommendation

BOSTON, January 22, 2020 – Today, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker released his FY2021 budget with a recommendation to fund civil legal aid at $24 million, the same amount of funding it received in FY20.

“We are pleased Gov. Baker recognizes the vital role civil legal aid plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Civil legal aid is essential to help people in crisis avoid homelessness and unemployment and gain access to essential benefits and services, including veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and quality education. Legal aid lawyers also support survivors of domestic violence, older adults living in poverty, and immigrants. Civil legal aid is often life changing for people, creating stability and opportunity – and delivering hope and justice.

“There remains a great unmet need for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, and MLAC will pursue additional funding. Next week, Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court, bar leaders, law students, and lawyers from around the Commonwealth will gather at the State House for the 21st Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. We will seek an additional $5 million in funding so more people can have equal access to justice. [For more information on the Walk to the Hill, visit equaljusticecoaltion.org.]

“Civil legal aid organizations are forced to turn away more people than they can serve, due to lack of funding. This is true even though civil legal aid yields a strong economic return for the Commonwealth and its residents. Last year, civil legal aid organizations provided an economic benefit of more than $69 million. Investing in civil legal aid is just and makes good economic sense.

“With the great unmet need and the strong return on the Commonwealth’s investment in civil legal aid, we strongly urge the legislature to increase civil legal aid funding to $29 million for FY21.”

About MLAC. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, funding nonprofits that provide legal information, advice, and representation to low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems. www.mlac.org

Equal Justice Coalition recognizes four law firms and UMass Law for Support of Legal Aid

Awards recognize exceptional participation in Walk to the Hill

BOSTON, January 9, 2020 – The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized four law firms and UMass Law School for their outstanding participation in the 2019 Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:
– Morgan Lewis: Highest Participation Award
– Ropes & Gray: Exceptional Support Award
– Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow: Nancy King Award
– WilmerHale: Team Advocacy Award
– UMass Law: Highest Participation for a Law School Award.

Morgan Lewis receives award

From left: Lynne Parker, Executive Director, MLAC; Jason Frank, attorney and team captain of Morgan Lewis; Louis Tompros, Chair, EJC

The Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is the annual lobby day for supporters of a larger state appropriation for the legal assistance organizations funded by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Last January, nearly 700 attorneys and law students convened at the Massachusetts State House to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid. The commonwealth ultimately included an increase of $3 million, appropriating $24 million for civil legal aid in FY20.

“Private lawyers and law students are essential partners in the effort to make the case for the importance of funding civil legal aid for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents in times of crisis,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “All people deserve equal access to justice and to the courts, regardless of their income. I’m so grateful to these lawyers, law students, and law firms for advocating for civil justice for all people.”

This year, the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid will be on January 30. Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, bar association leaders, and law students will join hundreds of private attorneys at the State House to lobby for $29 million for civil legal aid in FY21.

About the Award Winners:
Morgan Lewis won the Highest Participation Award, with 36 lawyers from the firm attending the 2019 Walk to the Hill.
Ropes & Gray received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend, with a total of 32 participants.
Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Walk. The award is named for Nancy King, a longtime legal aid attorney in Boston who passed away in 2007.
WilmerHale earned the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the Walk to the Hill.
UMass Law received the Highest Participation for a Law School Award. Eighty students at the Dartmouth-based school traveled to Boston for the 2019 Walk to the Hill.

UMass Law receives award

From left: Louis Tompros, Chair, EJC; Kseniya Ruzanova, 3L UMass Law; Alexandria Murphy, 2L UMass Law; Kara Kocurek, 1L UMass Law; Nicholas LaFlamme, 2L UMassLaw; Lynne Parker, Executive Director, MLAC


About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Our View: When you need a lawyer

Nobody wants to think about lawyers amid their New Year’s revelry and resolutions, but odds are good you’ll need legal help at some point during 2020.

If you get arrested and hauled into court, you have the right to a lawyer even if you cannot pay for one. Clarence Earl Gideon’s handwritten appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the unanimous ruling that came in his case in 1963, assured us of that.

Not so much if you have to go to court to handle a civil matter, say, to ask for help collecting unpaid child support from your ex or to fend off creditors who want to dip into your paycheck. Those who can least afford a lawyer are the ones most disadvantaged. If not for the help of legal assistance programs, justice would only come to those who can most afford it.

All of which is something to bear in mind later this month when a group of legal professionals walk to the Statehouse to call attention to funding needs for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. The organization supports legal aid throughout the state, as well as specific programs aimed at helping people living with low incomes or who may have trouble finding a lawyer.

Last year, about 700 lawyers participated in the 20th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. This year’s walk is scheduled for Jan. 30… Read more in The Eagle Tribune.