Last December, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission
proposed that the Supreme Judicial Court adopt a new Rule 3:15,
establishing a fee for admission pro hac vice. The fees,
collected by the Board of Bar Overseers, would be given to the
Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Committee for
distribution through normal channels to legal assistance projects
for low-income individuals and families. On Friday, April 13, the
Court announced that it had promulgated just such a new rule. The
new rule takes effect Sept. 4, 2012.
The new rule is but one of the commission's projects. The
commission has been working on many fronts to support and enhance
access to justice in the commonwealth. At its March 15 meeting, the
commission reviewed its work in progress and the objectives it
hoped to achieve by the end of 2012. The model for the work is very
collaborative; in many cases, the commission is working with or
supporting the work of other organizations or programs.
The objectives are focused in six areas.
Objectives related to revenue for legal assistance for the
With IOLTA revenue reduced by very low interest rates and the
recession, and cuts to the funding of the Legal Services
Corporation, financial support for legal aid organizations is a
major goal of the commission. But just finding money is not enough;
the commission has an interest in how new revenue is distributed
and how it furthers achievement of commission goals.
Pro hac vice
rule: As noted above, the Supreme
Judicial Court has now adopted a new rule establishing a pro
hac vice fee for lawyers from other jurisdictions who seek
permission to appear in a Massachusetts court. The final rule
provides that a lawyer admitted to practice in another
jurisdiction, but not in Massachusetts, shall pay a $301
registration fee to the Board of Bar Overseers for permission to
practice in Superior Court, the Land Court or any appellate court.
The fee for registration in a case in the other departments of the
Trial Court is only $101. Once the fee is paid, a Massachusetts
lawyer moves the admission of the unadmitted lawyer.
Access to Justice Fee add-on: In 2010, the
Court implemented another commission proposal in support of legal
services for low-income families. The Access to Justice Fee, which
is part of each lawyer's annual registration fee, generated more
than a million dollars in voluntary contributions in its first
year. This year, the commission will consider strategies to
encourage more lawyers to contribute through the fee.
Attorney's fees: Under Massachusetts' law,
successful parties are sometimes entitled to an award of attorney's
fees. The commission recommended that programs take better
advantage of these awards as a source of program revenue; training
is planned to implement this recommendation later this year.
Class action residuals: A coordinated effort is
in place to monitor pending class actions and encourage judges and
counsel in class actions to direct residuals to IOLTA or to legal
Development of a statewide fund raising
campaign: The non-judicial commissioners hope to complete
the design of a statewide campaign for contributions from
corporations, corporate executives and other individuals by the end
of the year, with implementation planned for 2013. (Commissioners
who are judges are not involved in this effort.)
Objectives related to pro bono services
The commission has undertaken a number of initiatives involving
pro bono services, often in conjunction with the SJC's Pro Bono
Committee, and more initiatives are likely before the year is
Access to Justice Fellows
Program: A new idea, with senior lawyers
committing significant time to innovative projects carried out in
partnership with providers of legal assistance to low-income
families. The first Group of Fellows should be placed and working
on projects this year.
Statewide pro bono website: with the help of a
grant from LSC, a prototype of the website should be online and
being tested this year. July 2013 is the target date for full
Corporate counsel pro bono campaign: Following
up on last year's forum, new corporate counsel offices sign on for
pro bono participation and take on new cases.
Pro bono work by corporate counsel not licensed in
Massachusetts: The commission may propose a rule to allow
lawyers in corporate counsel offices to take pro bono cases even if
they are not admitted in Massachusetts.
Pro bono recognition program: Launched last
fall, this year's goal is to substantially increase the number of
firms and individual lawyers who seek recognition by the SJC for
exceeding standards for pro bono service.
Incubator Program: Private lawyers will be
trained in how to be financially successful in a private practice
for low-income clients.
Objectives related to improving civil legal aid services
The commission, working with the legal services programs, is
implementing last fall's recommendations from its Special Planning
Systemic advocacy: Regional plans to meet
targets for systemic advocacy are being put in place and training
will begin in all regions this year. Best practices for systemic
advocacy are being identified.
Intake, screening and hotline processes:
Massachusetts has been a leader in exploring a variety of advice
and intake approaches. Analysis of our experiences is in progress,
best practices are being identified, and appropriate changes will
be made in regional delivery systems, resulting in increased time
devoted to extended representation by lawyers in programs.
Expanding the right to counsel in civil cases:
The Boston Bar Association Task Force has published its report on
its pilot study. Plans for follow-up are being developed and
implemented, possibly including further pilots, and actions based
on the report's recommendations and exploration of last year's
Supreme Court case, Turner v. Rogers.
Client-led project: A project is in development
that will involve former legal aid clients in the direct provision
of assistance and information regarding legal issues to other
Social service agencies, public librarians, social
workers, lay advocates: This is an ongoing effort to
support the community of workers who help low-income families and
individuals cope with problems that involve legal dimensions. The
project includes the updating and enhancement of
www.masslegalhelp.org, a website managed by the Massachusetts Law
Reform Institute, that provides comprehensive legal
Follow-up to 2011 planning meetings with legal aid
providers: The commission's Special Planning Committee
will meet again with each of the groups with which it met in 2011
and follow up on issues on which progress may have already been
made in the regions.
In the southeast, the progress of the merger of
South Coastal Counties Legal Services and New Center for Legal
Advocacy and the decisions regarding intake and screening, services
to clients and on issues where LSC restrictions prohibit service,
and the extent of systemic advocacy;
In the central/west, the progress of the merger
creating Community Legal Aid, the prospect of consolidation with
the Massachusetts Justice Project, and the decisions regarding
intake and screening, services to clients and on issues where LSC
restrictions prohibit service, and the extent of systemic
In the northeast, the collaboration and
cooperation among the providers, the possibility of a merger based
on the southeast model, analysis of the existing screening and
intake structure, services to clients and on issues where LSC
restrictions prohibit service, and the extent of systemic
In the east, the interrelationship of the
programs, in particular the current working relationship among
LARC, the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Greater Boston Legal
Services, and whether, in a time of scarce resources, the
interrelationship between GBLS and MLRI has been thought through to
maximize their effectiveness;
With Massachusetts Law Reform, its financial
health, its setting of priorities in light of its reduced
resources, its relationship to, and support of, the field programs
and the seven MLAC-funded statewide programs, and its continued
role as a key leader for planning and advocacy across the entire
In some areas in which the planning report recommended action,
the commission is still working to define its objectives. These
include: increasing regional impact; making more effective use of
technology; developing tools for evaluating the results obtained
from legal aid program efforts; and increasing the involvement of
law schools and law school students.
Objectives related to access to justice in administrative
Many legal issues facing low-income families arise within the
complex system of administrative agencies of the state and federal
government. A commission Working Group on Administrative Justice is
pursuing three objectives in this area.
Creation of a common application for benefits to state
agencies: This working group will create a comprehensive
proposal to the Executive Office of Human Services, including
discussions of feasibility and privacy concerns and efficiency and
Language of DTA notices: The objective is to
see new language in use in notices and other communications from
the Department of Transitional Assistance that more clearly explain
to applicants for agency benefits and services what is happening
Language access plans of administrative agencies
monitored: A Language Access Coalition (legal services
advocate group) will monitor and propose improvements in
implementation of agency language access plans developed under
direction of the Executive Office of Administration and
Objectives related to access to justice for self-represented
The flood of self-represented litigants has led to many
initiatives within the courts. The commission fully supports the
work of the special advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives in the
Trial Court, including making more forms available, in multiple
languages, for use in the trial courts, creation of information
centers, enabling web access to downloadable forms and establishing
standing orders allowing limited assistance representation.
With regard to the guidelines for judges and clerks in dealing
with self-represented litigants, the commission supports training
events like the one concluded on March 30 and will explore whether
to recommend that the Code of Judicial Conduct be amended regarding
judicial interaction with SRLs.
The commission's Working Group on Web and Technology has several
Website for self-represented litigants: Help
the web pages of www.MassLegalHelp.org cover all significant areas
of poverty law. Expand outreach efforts that increase the number of
monthly visits to the website and the number of social service
agency websites displaying the MLH "button" to link to the
Forms for modification of child support:
Interactive online interview, in English and Spanish, available
this summer to guide SRLs to complete forms for modification of
Compendium of online court forms: All forms
authorized for use by SRLS in Trial Court proceedings available for
downloading from www.MassLegalHelp.org.
Law librarians: Continue support for online
consultation on referral from www.MassLegalHelp.org.
Objectives related to planning and communication within the
access to justice community
Finally, the commission will explore multi-year
planning by examining a process that will lead to ongoing,
careful and comprehensive planning for the access
to justice effort in Massachusetts in 2013 and beyond.
The commission also plans to improve its capabilities in
communications and coordination regarding legal
services and the commission's activities.
As to these final goals, no decision has been made about
developing a multi-year plan for the future, perhaps beginning with
2013. Such a plan might more comprehensively consider setting
overall goals and strategies for: improving access to justice
through the work of lawyers in the established legal aid programs;
the numerous legal organizations funded by the two bar foundations;
the pro bono services furnished by the private bar; and the work of
the broad community of individuals and institutions, such as
administrative agencies, client organizations and social services
organizations which serve the justice community.
While the commission is not responsible for the functioning of
the courts, such a plan might well include a recognition of how the
courts are addressing access issues involving self-represented
For further information about the commission, see www.massaccesstojustice.org.
The current commission was constituted by the Supreme Judicial
Court in February 2010, succeeding the first commission which was
established in 2005.
There are 24 commissioners, who meet every other month as a
group but work on commission projects all year. Seven commissioners
are judges, including the Trial Court's special advisor on Access
to Justice Initiatives. Other commissioners are practicing lawyers,
legal services program executives or board members, and business
leaders. Three commissioners are not lawyers, including a client
and the executive director of a major social service nonprofit
organization. The commission has a part-time consultant as its only
The Hon. Ralph D. Gants
is an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and
co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission.
David W. Rosenberg is an of
counsel member of Englander, Leggett, & Chicoine
PC and co-chair of the Access to Justice
Gerry Singsen is an attorney who
provides consulting and training for legal aid programs and is the
consultant to the Access to Justice Commission.