Lawyers Journal

Pro hac vice fee adopted; Access to Justice Commission moves ahead

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 poor

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 aid programs.

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 done.

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 implementation.

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 Committee.

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 clients.

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 information.

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 advocacy;

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 advocacy;

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 statewide system.

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 agencies

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 fraud reduction

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 and why.

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 Finance.

Objectives related to access to justice for self-represented litigants (SRLS)

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 objectives.

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 website.

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 child support.

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 individuals.

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 staff.

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 Commission.

Gerry Singsen is an attorney who provides consulting and training for legal aid programs and is the consultant to the Access to Justice Commission.

 

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