Understanding the BBA/BBF Relationship

It’s that time of year again: as the old year wraps up, we’re looking ahead to the new. What’s on our plate for 2015? One of the first items is the John & Abigail Adams Benefit, the premier event of the Boston Bar Foundation, coming up on January 31.

If you have never attended the Adams Benefit before, 2015 is a great year to start. In addition to honoring John Hancock for their work to support Boston youth during a full evening of dining and musical acts throughout the entire Museum of Fine Arts, this year the BBF has added a new element called “Late Night at the Museum” – a post-dinner party with drinks, a DJ, and dancing.

Of course, the larger message of the Adams Benefit is about supporting our community. All of the proceeds from the event will go directly to grants for legal services organizations that do vital work in our city by assisting those who need civil legal aid in areas such as homelessness, domestic violence, and immigration, but who cannot afford full representation.

As you know, supporting legal services in Boston is also a priority of the Boston Bar Association. The BBF and the BBA are closely linked, and I’d like to take a moment to explain their relationship and how they work together on common initiatives. Simply put, the Boston Bar Foundation is the official charity of the Boston Bar Association. It was started with the goal of making substantive contributions in the areas of access to justice and public service. In both of these areas, the BBF is an integral part of the BBA’s efforts to develop and strengthen opportunities to get involved and give back.

How Does the BBF Do This?

  • Access to Justice: Part of the BBA’s mission is to expand access to justice, and with the release of Investing in Justice, the report of the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid, the BBA has been very active in this area recently. With targeted initiatives like this, yearly events like Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, and engagement with legal services attorneys through its Delivery of Legal Services Section, the BBA advocates for increased access to justice year-round. But that’s just one piece; the other is the work that legal services attorneys and organizations do on the ground every single day. This is where the BBF comes in – by providing immediate, direct support to organizations through charitable grants.
  • Public Service: Many of our members are familiar with the ongoing public service programs of the BBA – including the Summer Jobs Program, Lawyer for the Day in Boston’s Housing Court, and the Military and Veterans Legal Help Line – and generously give their time to these causes, which is critical to their success. The BBF funds the BBA’s public service programs through fundraising campaigns and events, the proceeds of which are dedicated to increasing the resources and reach of the programs. It also helps to place Summer Jobs Program students in positions at nonprofits and government agencies throughout the city.

I hope this understanding of the BBF’s work has served to pique your interest. If you’re interested in getting involved, there are many ways to do so. One way is to donate to the BBF’s Annual Campaign; another is to consider becoming a member of the Society of Fellows by pledging your support annually. As a Senior Fellow myself, I can attest to the great sense of community this group of lawyers embraces – and the delightful seasonal receptions!

Attending the Adams Benefit is yet another way to support the BBF and the community, and I assure that you will have a spectacular Saturday evening. I hope to see you there!

Helping Our Children Through Education Advocacy

Anyone who thinks special education advocacy is a niche issue should meet Marlies Spanjaard, an attorney affiliated with the EdLaw Project, an initiative of the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts and the Committee for Public Counsel Services – Children & Family and Youth Advocacy Divisions. You’d be surprised – shocked, even – to learn some of the facts she gave me recently.

For example, did you know that only about half of Massachusetts third-grade students score proficient or above in reading on the MCAS? Or that two-thirds of children who can’t read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up imprisoned at some point in their lives? Yet in spite of this, only 17% of students in grade K-12 across the state receive special education services.

My background in education, particularly special education, has been an important influence on how I approach the legal profession. Working with children is a powerful reminder that there are members of our society whose voices are largely unheard and whose livelihood and success often depend on the assistance of others. Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, and when it comes to their education, it is our responsibility to ensure that their best interests are protected.

With this in mind, I have a particular interest in promoting this cause alongside the BBA’s many other public service initiatives. I was therefore pleased to see that Marlies Spanjaard will lead a Special Education Advocacy pro bono training next week. While I hope you will consider attending any of the many pro bono training that the BBA holds, I focus my blog on this one because it’s an area in which attorneys may not be aware that they can make such a substantive difference.

The failure to deliver special education services to children in need has broad consequences, which come with a heavy price tag for the individuals involved, and also for society as a whole. Children who fall behind are more likely to end up as part of the criminal justice system. The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services states, “annually, there are approximately 6,000 juveniles arraigned in court on criminal charges.”  According to the Massachusetts Department of Correction, sending a person to a correctional facility costs taxpayers almost $50,000 per prisoner per year.

This is where the early assistance of an attorney in securing any necessary special education resources can really make a difference. Our pro bono training on Monday will prepare attorneys to help a family navigate the legal system and advocate for them – whether it’s an issue of guiding them through the special education eligibility process or advocating for specific services that a school district may not agree that the child needs. Rather than trying to solve the problem once the child has already started to fall behind, an attorney can work with the family to support their child more immediately after a need has been identified. For low-income families whose children are at risk, this can absolutely change the trajectory of that child’s future.

We talk a lot about pro bono and public service work at the BBA, and we do so because there are so many ways to get involved and it is so important to offer our skills in this way. Particularly around this time of year, I think it’s extremely fitting to think about ways that we can give back to help those who may be less fortunate, or less able to defend themselves. With a new year and a fresh start coming up, there is no better time to consider expanding our commitment to serving others.

An Update from the Trial Court

Last week was a busy one at the BBA. Not only did I spend Tuesday as Principal for the Day, but later that evening, the BBA Council had the chance to hear directly from Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence – the dynamic duo who lead the Trial Court department. We know that they have extremely busy schedules, so we appreciate the time they took to discuss the status of the courts and give us a sneak peek at what might be in store for the future.

One Mission: Justice with Dignity and Speed,” the court’s strategic plan, has been in place for over a year under Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and through its emphasis on collaboration both internally and with other outside agencies, it has moved the courts forward in leaps and bounds. While change is still ongoing, there are a few significant updates from the discussion that I’d like to share as we continue our own advocacy for the courts:

  • Specialty Courts: The number of specialty courts has been rapidly expanding and is sure to continue to do so; in fact, a portion of the Trial Court’s funding for the year was specially earmarked by the Legislature, indicating lawmakers’ support for the specialty courts. Chief Justice Carey was emphatic about the great work and successes these programs achieve, challenging all of us to attend a specialty court graduation and not cry. One year into a three-year plan, eight new specialty courts have already been added, and, by the end of the year, we are slated to see a total of thirty-five. In addition to expansion, the Trial Court is working to standardize specialty court operation and study outcomes so that we can better measure their effectiveness. This can help us find ways to maximize the effectiveness of the specialty courts in response to specific challenges, such as the opiate crisis, and ultimately reduce rates of recidivism.
  • Technology: This is another area in which we can expect continual change from the courts as they update their systems and move toward becoming more streamlined, efficient, and user-friendly. They are moving to an all-digital system and are aiming to become 90% digitized within the next few years. Already, we can expect to see new features being set into place. For example, in Bristol and Barnstable Counties, attorneys can already find dockets and documents online. In January, they will implement e-filing for civil cases in certain demonstration sites and will soon begin to offer digital preservation of documents. The courts will also completely install MassCourts, the electronic case access tool, for the Superior Court by June. The Trial Court is committed to making its operations more user-friendly and accessible to the general public.
  • Security Screening: Under the guidance of their Director of Security Jeff Morrow – formerly of NCIS – the court has identified security issues in the courthouses and is working to address them. It may mean stricter security measures for all, but this will likely be a worthwhile trade-off for the added peace of mind. I found this particularly striking as the courts are hoping to maintain a dialogue with the bar to figure out the most effective way to ensure the safety of all who enter any courthouse.

We also heard more about the court service center that recently opened at the Brooke Courthouse, which has assisted over 3,000 litigants since June. New court service centers are in the works for all major courthouses across the Commonwealth. We are proud that our most recent Public Interest Leadership class had the opportunity to work with the courts to develop materials for the center and help it to launch – it’s a great example of how the bench and bar can collaborate on issues of mutual interest. It is a privilege to work with powerhouses like Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and we’re looking forward to lending our support as the year progresses. This stated mission of “justice with dignity and speed” is one that we share wholeheartedly.

Being Principal for the Day

The BBA is always looking for ways to reach out to the greater Boston community and understand how the legal community can support and interact with a wider network. Education is a huge priority for us: we proudly hold the Law Day in the Schools program, Summer Jobs program, and Financial Literacy program every year to educate Boston public school students of all ages on issues ranging from the role of democracy in everyday society to professional development and fiscal responsibility.

One other program that I have the privilege of participating in as President of the BBA is the ‘Principal Partners’ program (formerly known as ‘Principal for the Day’), run by the Boston Plan for Excellence. For years, the BBA President has been invited to visit a public school for the day to learn more about its structure, curriculum, and challenges. This week, I paid a visit to the Mary Lyon Pilot High School in Brighton to find out what it’s like to see the school from the top.

The Mary Lyon Pilot High School is only one part of the Mary Lyon school system. What started in 1992 as a K-5 program for special education students with emotional and behavioral impairments gradually expanded to become a K-8 program. Under the guidance of Headmaster Jean-Dominique Hervé Anoh, the school subsequently added a full high school over the last five years and now spans K-12. The high school has 134 students in total.

Headmaster Anoh – who, by the way, was tirelessly energetic and informative even for such an early hour! – was kind enough to show me around the school and explain its structure. As a former teacher in special education, I found the program fascinating: every single class at the Mary Lyon Pilot High School is fully inclusive, incorporating both general education and students with emotional and behavioral impairments. This is very different from many other schools that claim to be inclusive, but which only place special education students in certain classes and have a separate special education resource center.  Headmaster Anoh informed me that the Mary Lyons model is perhaps the only one of its kind in the country.

LTRS1

The students enjoy small class sizes ranging from 15 to 20 students, with two to three teachers and/or aides assigned to each class.  The fourteen teachers at the high school are dually licensed in their content areas and special education.  The enrollment goal for each class is to have approximately 25-30% special education students and the rest general education students. Structuring classes this way is the most effective teaching model, according to Headmaster Anoh. As funding and the student population have changed, the school has had to adapt. For example, right now the school’s junior class is 49% special education students. This is not optimal, according to the headmaster, but because inclusion is such an integral part of the culture, the school works hard to accommodate students of all backgrounds and emotional and learning capabilities.

The school also focuses on ability-based learning and grades students on their achievements while taking care not to penalize them for their disabilities.  For example, Headmaster Anoh told me about a student who transferred into the high school from a different school system. This student was a repeating ninth-grader based on his low overall grades, yet he had achieved high scores on the MCAS and on his final exams. When the headmaster asked him why this had happened, the student explained that whenever he handed in his homework late – not out of laziness or procrastination, but due to a learning style that compelled him to revisit each assignment to try to complete it perfectly – he had points deducted. At Mary Lyons, work is graded solely on its academic value, so the student was able to succeed in this setting and is now attending Curry College on a full scholarship.

LTRS2

The Mary Lyons Pilot High School has a rigorous academic curriculum, which is unusual for a school serving a large population of special education students in an inclusive setting.  In 1992, when the program was first trying to transition from a special education program to an integrated program, the school attracted general education students by offering free before- and after-school care; now, they attract students based on their test scores and overall reputation for excellence. In fact, the Mary Lyons school system consistently achieves high MCAS scores. I visited several classes at the school and found students hard at work on calculus, physics, AP statistics, advanced history courses, and other college prep subjects. Another fact that I found particularly notable is that the school’s demographics reflect a population that is roughly one-third Hispanic, one-third black, and one-third Caucasian – but unlike many other schools, there is no significant achievement gap between these groups.

Overall, I found the experience to be enlightening and enjoyable. It is encouraging to see a successful academic model that empowers teachers and students of all learning levels to achieve their fullest potential. My thanks to Headmaster Anoh and the Mary Lyon Pilot High School for inviting me to be ‘Principal for the Day!’

Welcome, New Lawyers!

Next week, a familiar scene will take place at the historic Faneuil Hall: Excited family members will pack the galleries of the Great Hall. Gradually, the floor seats will fill up with recent admittees to the bar. Finally, Clerk for the County of Suffolk to the Supreme Judicial Court Maura Doyle will take the stage and orient the audience to the historic hall in which they are sitting and the significance of the ceremony that is about to take place.

For so many, the Faneuil Hall swearing-in ceremony is the first official step into new lives as practicing members of the legal profession. We more experienced attorneys have all been in those shoes at some point, and I’m sure we can recall the sense of pride, excitement, and accomplishment that accompanied the event. The sense of gravitas felt as we swore to uphold the standards of the profession was enormous and has stayed with us throughout the years.

So to the new lawyers who are embarking on this journey and joining the noble tradition of the law: I congratulate and welcome you. You became a part of the legal community as a law student. As a new lawyer, it is now time to put your passion into practice and find ways to protect the rights of those who cannot always protect themselves. Your hard work over the past several years has finally paid off, and I hope you find that the years to come exceed your expectations and offer you fulfillment.

I would be remiss as President of the BBA if I didn’t take this opportunity to urge you to become involved or increase your involvement in the BBA. Many of our members and volunteers would agree that it has been one of the best choices they have ever made, personally and professionally. I can attest to that as well: as a young attorney, I was encouraged to join a BBA committee by the founder of the firm where I was then working. Through this initial step, I got involved in the BBA’s Delivery of Legal Services Section, which connected me to like-minded attorneys and allowed me the chance to work more closely on issues of access to justice and civil legal aid. , These issues were very important to me, and I did not have the opportunity to work on them as a part of my regular legal practice. My experiences with the BBA played a huge role in my subsequent work with the Equal Justice Coalition and led to the privilege of serving as president of Greater Boston Legal Services.

With this in mind, I encourage you to view the BBA as a stepping stone for discovering new opportunities, making valuable connections across all areas of the legal community, and finding roles –particularly leadership roles – that may be outside your practice area. The BBA hosts a range of educational programs, but that’s only a small part of its offerings. There are many ways to be a part of the critical work it does in the greater Boston community and meet other enthusiastic, committed volunteers. Here are just a few upcoming programs and events:

This is only a quick look at some of the programming the BBA has lined up in the next couple of months. I invite you to explore our calendar for other events and public service opportunities, and to seriously consider a membership at the BBA – it will enhance your experience even further.

Meeting Community Needs Through the BBA Lawyer Referral Service

The BBA works hard to make sure that it offers relevant, high-quality resources to those who need them – not just to its members, but also to people in the community who are seeking legal assistance. As we know from the recent report of the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, there is an enormous unmet need for legal aid in this state. The BBA recognizes that the increasing number of pro se litigants imposes significant burdens on our courts, and affects the ability of our judges to deliver justice. The BBA is committed to ensuring access to justice for everyone who comes before our courts, and including by assisting unrepresented litigants find lawyers.

With this in mind, I recently paid a visit to the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The LRS is the BBA’s largest public service to members of the community, and is entirely staffed and supervised by the BBA. In a nutshell, the LRS operates a help line to match prospective clients with participating attorneys. Individuals seeking legal assistance can contact the LRS by telephone or through an online form to receive a referral to an appropriate attorney, legal services organization, or government agency.

Almost 300 attorneys are currently registered with the LRS, covering nearly 350 areas of the law. In order to ensure that its referrals are of a high quality, the BBA requires that participating attorneys meet certain requirements, including, in some subject matters that are more complex, a minimum number of years of experience. Attorneys may charge their usual rates and remit a portion to the BBA. Attorneys also have the option to make themselves available for reduced-fee cases, by which moderate to low-income clients are charged a maximum of $85/hour. These reduced fee referrals are a huge help in allowing individuals who may not be able to receive civil legal aid but cannot pay market rates for attorneys’ fees.

For even more perspective, let me highlight a few key facts about the LRS.

Quick Stats about the LRS:

  • The LRS received over 8,000 inquiries from prospective clients seeking representation in the past year.
  • Of those, 1,205 contacts came from online referral requests – more than 20% higher than the prior year.
  • Over the past year, 39% of LRS callers have been eligible for the reduced-fee panel, which has allowed the LRS to connect those unable to pay traditional fees for legal assistance to an affordable solution.
  • 60% of the attorneys who participate in the LRS also participate in the reduced-fee panel.

The Bigger Picture: Responding to Community Needs

As you can see, the LRS does incredible work on a daily basis. The service is personal and tailored to each client’s legal needs, and involves much more than just pulling names from a list. It truly has the capacity to change people’s lives every day.

But the LRS also has the ability to respond to the shifting needs of an evolving community, even in emergency situations. This flexibility allows it to be an even greater service to the community. For example, the LRS’s close connections to the legal community and its solid infrastructure allowed the BBA to establish the Marathon Assistance Project shortly after the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Through this project, more than 80 individuals and small businesses have received much-needed legal assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy. The LRS continues to offer assistance to these victims as their legal needs evolve.

More recently, the Military Legal Help Line was transferred over to the LRS. They have been able to expand the line and draw from a full panel of attorneys dedicated to assisting military personnel, veterans, and family members with their unique legal needs. As a result, the LRS has been able to connect 161% more members of this population with legal assistance than in the prior year. In even more exciting news, you may have seen earlier this week that four law firms have signed on to accept pro bono referrals through the Military Legal Help Line for clients who do not qualify for traditional free legal services, but cannot afford the fees of a lawyer. These partnerships will significantly improve our ability to assist this portion of the population.

With this kind of proactive approach, the potential of the LRS is unlimited. We are looking forward to exploring new ways that this valuable service to the community can grow and develop even more as the community itself continues to change.

A Look at Limited Assistance Representation

As I’ve already mentioned in this blog, one of the most exciting parts about beginning my term as BBA President has been the opportunity to meet with leaders of the courts and discuss current topics of concern for the bench and the bar. The chief judges and justices have all expressed the desire to continue to work closely with the BBA on matters of mutual interest.

It’s no surprise that one of those matters is access to justice, a major area of focus for both the courts and the BBA. We of course plan to maintain the momentum from the release of “Investing in Justice,” our task force report on civil legal aid, but there are many other steps to take in the meantime. One subject that has come up repeatedly in my meetings with court leaders is Limited Assistance Representation, its place in the courts, and its potential expansion.

Limited Assistance Representation (or LAR) is currently available to litigants in the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court, Land Court, Housing Court, District Court, and Boston Municipal Court.  Although many people are unaware of its existence, LAR has the potential to offer great benefits to litigants who would otherwise be handling their legal matters pro se. When using LAR, an attorney and client decide, before any legal work has been started, what portion of the case each will be responsible for and what sort of fee arrangement might be appropriate. This way, instead of navigating the legal system entirely on their own, self-represented litigants have some support in the more complex aspects of their individual cases. In some situations, litigants can seek LAR for reduced fee, or even occasionally on a pro bono basis.

LAR allows lawyers at all stages of their careers to get involved in cases that truly need the guidance of someone familiar with the legal system, but without committing to the full case, which could take up a great deal of time and require services beyond what the client can afford. It’s a way for experienced attorneys to support the cause of access to justice, and also gives newer attorneys who are not yet established a chance to gain some practical legal experience. After a specialized training session on how to approach these cases and work with clients on just a single or limited portion of the case, attorneys can manage different portions of multiple cases and charge for the assistance they provide, which is beneficial to the participating attorneys and also makes more affordable legal services available to litigants.

In this way, we see LAR as one of the potential methods to bridge the gap between attorneys seeking work and individuals who need legal services. Let me put this in perspective: in 2012, a briefing paper by the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission found that approximately 75% of litigants with a case in the Housing Court were self-represented; broken down further, almost 95% of those defending a case in that court were self-represented. Those numbers have not decreased over the past couple of years, and that is troubling. The glut of pro se litigants in this court and others needs to be alleviated in order for the courts to operate more efficiently in the service of justice.

The BBA is constantly exploring ways to improve access to justice in our state. To that end, the BBA is pleased to offer LAR training and serve as a resource for attorneys seeking LAR certification. In the comings months, the BBA will continue to consider the role that LAR and other methods of improving access to justice can play in better meeting the needs of our courts and the litigants who appear before them. This is an ongoing effort, and one which I hope we can continue to count on the legal community to support.

The State of the Judiciary and Its Connection to the Bar

Late last week, the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants appeared before an audience of representatives from across the legal community to give his inaugural State of the Judiciary address. Along with Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, Chief Justice Gants outlined his hopes for the courts, the legal profession, and the justice system in our Commonwealth.

I want to highlight a couple of the initiatives that Chief Justice Gants announced and explain what the bar has done – and can do in the future – to further them.  Many of these initiatives are just as important to the BBA’s mission, and our position as members of the bar, as they are to the courts.

For example, Chief Justice Gants took on the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing. For nearly 20 years, the BBA has opposed mandatory minimum sentencing, issuing a resolution to that effect in 1990, followed by a task force report called The Crisis in Corrections and Sentencing in Massachusetts a year later. The BBA also sponsored a bill that helped to create the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission. Over the years, we have publicly testified in support of sentencing reform and have studied related topics ranging from parole practices to CORI reform.

This is an issue that continues to be a BBA priority, and as Chief Justice Gants noted in his remarks, there is ever-increasing public support for our position. We know that strict sentencing disproportionately affects minority groups, and as Chief Justice Gants cited, mandatory minimum sentencing does not take into account the specific facts of each case – which can be especially problematic given the large proportion of drug-related cases in which addiction is a mitigating factor. The specialty court sessions of the Trial Court, including the drug court and veterans’ court, provide a greater focus on the role and the treatment of substance addiction and are expanding rapidly.  We need to continue to support the courts’ efforts in addressing these difficult and complex issues by continuing our advocacy for specialty courts.

We also want to thank Chief Justice Gants for his reference to our Task Force Report on civil legal aid, which we released the day before his speech. He urged the legislature to act on our recommendations for increased funding for civil legal aid, in line with the courts’ continuing focus on ensuring access to justice.

In his speech, Chief Justice Gants indicated that the judiciary’s initiatives could not be successful without the support of the executive and legislative branches and the bar.  The BBA has a long tradition of working with the judiciary on matters of mutual interest.  As one example of the bench and the bar working together on an access to justice project, this summer, we saw the first court service center in Boston open at the Brooke Courthouse. An initiative of the court, our most recent Public Interest Leadership class collaborated with the court staff to assist with some of the set-up, materials, and volunteer staffing associated with the initial phases of opening the center, which provides a workspace area and guidance to self-represented litigants who come to the court and don’t know where to start. Now, according to Chief Justice Gants, judges are wondering how they ever lived without the court service centers that exist in Boston and Greenfield, and there are plans to open new service centers in courts across the Commonwealth.

It is in this spirit that I encourage all attorneys to continue to advocate for the courts and their goals, as it gives us the opportunity to strengthen this partnership. Already, Chief Justice Gants has recommended numerous working groups that include members of the bar, showing that our input is of high value to the courts. We can also make sure to attend open court events, such as an upcoming open house at the Brooke Courthouse Court Service Center on October 30th, as well as bench-bar symposiums to hear our judges’ perspectives on matters of mutual importance and to provide feedback. Through collaboration and thoughtful discourse across all parts of the legal community, we can see these critical shared goals come to fruition.

Why We Must Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts

This week, the report of the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts was released, and we couldn’t be more excited about this significant step toward our goal to draw more attention to the critical legal services work that goes on in our state. Every day, the staffs of these legal services organizations work hard to offer support to as many as possible. Yet, in spite of their tremendous efforts, 64% of income-eligible people who seek civil legal aid in our Commonwealth must be turned away due to a lack of resources. Moreover, the research of three independent economic analysts revealed for the first time that for every dollar spent on civil legal aid, the Commonwealth saves anywhere from $2 to $5 – meaning that increasing the funding for civil legal aid serves to benefit society as well as the state budget.

We hope that you will read the report for yourself, as it is informative, compelling, and at times shocking. I found it particularly captivating: as the former President of Greater Boston Legal Services and former Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, I understood the budgetary constraints that keep many in need from getting legal representation. But what was news to me was that we can actually save money through a greater state investment in civil legal aid.

I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties that legal services organizations and the constituents who seek their aid face, but I have also seen the powerful positive impact that timely legal counsel can have on people.  So I was glad that our report included three such stories.  I want to share another client story with you here – one that we were not able to include in the report itself, but one that shows how civil legal aid can change the personal outcome of an individual and serves as an example of how even single cases of providing civil legal aid can have a much larger effect.

Natasha

A client I’ll call Natasha was living in a subsidized apartment with her sons when her landlord improperly increased the rent on the apartment by $1,000/month and then tried to evict them for failing to pay $13,000 in what he claimed was unpaid rent. Fearful of losing the apartment and finding herself and her sons homeless and helpless, Natasha turned to CLSACC (Community Legal Services and Counseling Center) for legal assistance. CLSACC’s Housing Attorney represented her in District Court and persuaded the judge to dismiss the eviction. As a result of CLSACC’s representation, Natasha and her sons are able to remain in their affordable home.

It’s a great ending to a very human story; but for every person who finds justice through civil legal aid, nearly two others must be turned away. There are yet more who are unaware that seeking legal services is even an option. The reality of stories like Natasha’s is that they paint a much larger picture: there are many people in dire need of legal assistance throughout our state, and while her story and many others are uplifting examples of success, they also highlight in stark relief what could have happened if the person hadn’t received legal aid.

Consequences and Cost Savings to the Commonwealth

The cost analyses of three independent financial consultants give some indication of the interplay between the social repercussions of inadequate civil legal aid and the cost to the Commonwealth. Let’s stay on the issue of housing, which Natasha faced above, and consider what could have happened to her and her family without the support of CLSACC. One analyst, the Analysis Group, studied the funding issues surrounding wrongful evictions and foreclosures, and concluded that “for many…the eviction or foreclosure process will result in either substantial worsening of living conditions or homelessness” – which would correspondingly increase the costs in emergency shelter resources, the public health system, policing, and possibly foster care.

Think of the extensive range of possible consequences that could accompany a family forced into homelessness. The consultants found that “children in homeless families are less likely to attain the same level of education as other children,” and could suffer from other health problems, both mental and physical. They would be more likely to resort to drugs or to violence, as also suggested in the report. This would then put even greater financial burdens on the Commonwealth.

Inadequate funding for civil legal aid also affects our justice system. We have previously discussed the strain placed on the courts by the increase in pro se litigants. Those who cannot afford legal representation or secure legal aid must enter the system on their own, and because of their unfamiliarity with the system, they often slow down operations and place unrealistic demands on the limited time and attention of courthouse staff. They frequently cannot present their cases properly, meaning that the final outcome may not see justice served as it should be – something that has been confirmed by a survey of state court judges conducted by the Task Force.

Ultimately, we must be aware of what happens without the support of legal services. The social and financial aspects are inextricably linked, and should be of utmost concern to anybody who lives in Massachusetts. The report by the Task Force comprehensively addresses why funding for civil legal aid is so important, what happens without it, and how we should go about increasing it; it is now up to us to follow through on their immensely important start and make sure that this message does not get lost.

Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession

The Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion is right around the corner on October 14th, and we’re looking forward to what we know will be a spectacular event. Diversity has been a major priority of the BBA dating back to 1969, when President Haskell Cohn created a special committee to grant scholarships to minority students at the city’s six law schools. Since then, we have continued to add programs and initiatives to expand diversity and inclusion and develop a legal profession that more fully reflects the community it serves.

This year’s Beacon Award honoree is Governor Deval Patrick, a true champion of diversity. What you may not know is the extent of his successful efforts to increase the diversity of the Massachusetts judiciary by naming more women and minorities to the bench.

There are, in total, over 400 judicial seats in Massachusetts between the Supreme Judicial Court, the Court of Appeals, and the seven departments of the Trial Court. During the course of his time as Governor, Patrick made about 170 appointments to the bench – a full 40 percent of the state judiciary. Ultimately, nearly 50% of those 170 appointments have been women, while approximately 20% were members of minority groups.

One can readily see the impact of Governor Patrick’s appointments on the Supreme Judicial Court, which serves as a microcosm of the larger picture. When Governor Patrick took office in 2007, the Court had three female justices – including Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, the first woman to hold that position – and one person of color, then-Justice Roderick Ireland. Today, for the first time in history, the Court has a majority of female associate justices, and only the second time that there has been a majority of female justices in the court (in late 2000, Associate Justices Abrams, Cowin, and Sosman sat on the court while Chief Justice Margaret Marshall held that position). Through Governor Patrick’s appointments, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland became the first person of color to serve as Chief Justice; two persons of color are current Associate Justices; and the first openly gay Associate Justice sits on the bench.

These numbers reflect that Governor Patrick has been a trailblazer in this area. We are grateful for his efforts, and the people of the Commonwealth are served all the better for them.

Moving forward, we need to keep that spirit alive and apply it not just to the judiciary but also to the legal profession in general. While strides are being made in diversifying our state judges, the same is not true for the rest of Boston’s legal community. Our city is actually behind national averages in diversity statistics, particularly for minority groups: according to a story in the Boston Business Journal, only 3.8% of partners in Boston law firms were minorities, versus 7.1% nationwide.

I know we can do better, and believe that part of the solution is fostering inclusion and mentorship opportunities so that minority attorneys are encouraged to seek leadership positions in their professional roles and in the legal community. The BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion Section works hard to make this happen by partnering with six Massachusetts affinity bar associations on events and programs, holding its own programs about diversity and offering valuable advice from well-established attorneys, running the Group Mentoring Program every year, and encouraging minority law students to apply for the Judicial Internship Program.

But of course, progress is not made by just one organization, or even by a committed group of organizations. Change has to come at all levels and become a systemic effort. The percentage of minority associates in Boston has risen slightly from 14% in 2008 to 16% in 2014, and we hope that the legal community will come together to bolster that growth within their organizations and by supporting organizations that make diversity a part of their mission.

So as we celebrate Governor Patrick’s commitment to diversity, I urge you to reflect on the larger picture in Boston and consider ways that you can pledge your support to this issue. The numbers don’t lie: we have a long way to go and an uphill road to travel.  Despite the longstanding challenges inherent in diversifying the legal profession, I believe that our concerted efforts to educate ourselves and others about diversity, our participation in events that promote it, and our work to consciously develop and maintain inclusive professional environments will ultimately change the numbers for the better.