More than 650 lawyers assembled at the State House on Jan. 30 to
request their legislators support Gov. Deval L. Patrick's fiscal
year 2014 budget recommendation of $15.5 million for the
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.
The 14th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid featured a
visit from Patrick, who told attendees in the standing room only
Great Hall of Flags that civil legal aid is necessary.
"I value what you do. I value on whose behalf you do it,"
Patrick said. "We do not have to be victims of economic
circumstance. We can shape our own future."
The largest single funding source for civil legal aid in
Massachusetts, MLAC received a $12 million appropriation from the
state this fiscal year.
Legal aid programs are often the last resort for low-income
people in Massachusetts, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice
Roderick L. Ireland said.
"Without these services, indigent clients often try to navigate
the legal system on their own, or give up hope … The results can be
devastating," he said. "We are here today to help balance the
scales of justice."
The Jan. 30 event was presented by the Equal Justice Coalition,
the MBA and the Boston Bar Association, and was co-sponsored by 30
county and specialty bar associations.
Civil legal aid programs have been struggling to meet demand due
to a 78 percent decrease in revenue since fiscal year 2008 from the
Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts program, the other major
funding source for civil legal aid. MLAC has cut grants to the 16
legal aid programs it funds by 56 percent since fiscal year
"We need to have adequate finding for civil legal aid services,"
MBA President Robert L. Holloway Jr. said.
"The bottom line is we have a system in place there the funding
is the lowest when the need is the greatest," Boston Bar
Association President James D. Smeallie said. "Thus, it is critical
that the state step in to increase funding for civil legal services
to assure access to justice for our citizens who are most in need
Civil legal aid saved her life, said Daniele Bien-Aime of
Brockton. The former South Coastal Counties Legal Services client
lost her job, health insurance, and was in danger of becoming
homeless during her battle with breast cancer. The advocacy of a
legal aid attorney helped Bien-Aime get her job back, providing her
with health insurance to finish her cancer treatment and the income
needed to keep her in her home.
"My legal aid attorney was Heaven-sent," Bien-Amie said. "I
don't know what I would have done without her help, and I am
grateful to everyone who supports the funding that enables these
lawyers to continue to help people like me."