The May 14 House of Delegates meeting will be asked to approve the creation of two sections — Immigration Law and Juvenile and Child Welfare — to recognize growing areas of law with unmet needs in Massachusetts.
If approved, it will be the first major reorganization of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s sections since the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section was created in early 2007. The Young Lawyers Section was changed to a division in the fall of 2006. There are currently 15 sections.
“The most important part of our mission is supporting the professional growth of the members in their various areas of practice,” said MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington.
Juvenile and Child Welfare proposal
The Criminal Justice Section has hosted the Juvenile Justice Practice Group, which is led by Juvenile Court Judge Jay David Blitzman. There has been significant interest in not only elevating the practice group to section status, but expanding its mission to include both civil and criminal practitioners.
Members who practice both civil and criminal juvenile law — as well as many nonmembers — currently have their professional needs met in only a limited way by other bar associations, Wellington said.
“We feel that we have the strongest resources to meet the needs of juvenile law practitioners,” she said. “People from practitioners to juvenile law clerks to juvenile court judges have asked us to prioritize this segment of the community.”
According to the materials submitted for consideration by HOD, the new section would increase membership and provide practitioners with valuable educational and social opportunities.
The MBA currently addresses juvenile issues through separate practice groups on the criminal side under the Criminal Justice Section and on the civil side under the Individual Rights & Responsibilities and Family Law Sections. However, the criminal/civil separation “dilutes the ability for coordinated action and is less effective given the fact that many juvenile justice issues have both civil and criminal components,” the proposal states.
In addition to cosponsoring Continuing Legal Education programs with the Criminal Justice, Civil Litigation and other sections, several projects have already been suggested. They include a child welfare CLE program, developing an inter-agency forum to discuss similar issues regarding delinquencies, CHINS and care and protection matters, and partnering with other organizations such as the Juvenile Bar Association to co-sponsor educational programs, events and legislative efforts.
Immigration Law proposal
“Immigration law is an area that reaches so many practitioners,” Wellington said. “In addition, immigration practice is a growing field as we focus on immigration issues as a society. We feel it’s the appropriate time to raise immigration law to the level of a section to meet the growing needs of an increasing number of practitioners across the state.”
MBA Senior Program Manager Marc A. D’Antonio said he thinks the MBA has the opportunity to fill a niche in the area of immigration law. In addition to addressing the concerns of practicing immigration attorneys, the committee has also focused on two other groups: newer immigration attorneys and attorneys practicing in other areas. Non-immigration attorneys are increasingly finding themselves confronted with immigration issues, such as deportation hearings, that they may not have any idea how to address.
The Immigration Law Committee has been offering “substantive programming for free,” D’Antonio said. As a section, it would be able to offer a range of program-ming through Continuing Legal Education courses designed for everyone, from experienced immigration practitioners to attorneys who only rarely are confronted with immigration issues.
“What we’re seeing is a trend where there’s a lot of crossover with family law practitioners, criminal law and business. Labor and employment would be another one,” D’Antonio said. “There’s a need there that I think the MBA is hoping to address.”
Wellington said the proposals are part of the MBA’s ongoing effort to meet the needs of its members.
“What we’re trying to do is identify substantial areas of practice in Massachusetts and continue to check to make sure that we’re providing support to those practitioners,” she said. “In both immigration law and juvenile justice, there are a large number of practitioners out there looking for the guidance and support of the association.”