Malpractice ‘Traps’ Excerpt: Accessing Town Clerks’ Offices for Municipal-Related Matters

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021
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The Massachusetts Bar Association is in the process of updating its Traps for the Unwary publication, a member-exclusive reference guide last published in 2011 that looks at some of the malpractice hazards for attorneys who practice in a general, civil practice. We invite members to share any “traps” they’ve come across in their practice for possible inclusion in the next edition.

Share your trap suggestion by emailing it to Attorney James E. Harvey of O’Malley and Harvey LLP, who is again serving as editor-in-chief for the project and is working closely with liaisons from several MBA section councils.

To help you identify potential traps, the MBA will periodically publish excerpts from Traps for the Unwary in eJournal. View this week’s trap, plus previously shared examples, below.


City clerks’ and town clerks’ offices are occasionally closed on Fridays or during other usual business hours, sometimes due to staffing or budget constraints or local customs. Lawyers having municipal-related business should plan ahead. For example, if a person is aggrieved by a decision of a zoning board of appeals and wants to file an appeal in Superior Court or Land Court, M.G.L. c. 40A, sec. 17 requires the plaintiff to do three things within 20 days after the decision has been filed in the clerk’s office, two of which require interaction with the city or town clerk’s office: first, obtain a copy of the decision appealed from, certified by the city or town clerk; second, attach the certified copy as an exhibit to the Complaint and file the Complaint with the court clerk to initiate suit; and third, serve the city or town clerk with a copy of the Complaint, “so as to be received within such twenty days.”