President’s Message: Turn Talk into Action for Legal Aid

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023 By MBA President Grace V.B. Garcia
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MBA President Grace V.B. Garcia

We know that having a lawyer greatly increases the chances for receiving a favorable legal resolution. But that’s no solace to many low-income people who are dealing with serious civil legal problems that affect their health, housing, jobs or safety and who do not enjoy the same right to an attorney as indigent defendants in criminal cases. For many vulnerable people in the commonwealth, assistance from a legal aid organization is often the only lifeline available.

Last month, in my column about “The Power of Community,” I noted how communities working together can make a positive difference when they are focused on helping others. On Jan. 26, at the Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, we have an opportunity to harness our collective influence as members of the legal community to ensure that legal assistance is available to those who need it most.

Organized by the Equal Justice Coalition — a partnership between the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), Massachusetts Bar Association and Boston Bar Association — the Talk to the Hill is an annual event for attorneys, law students and other members of our legal community to lobby Massachusetts legislators to support civil legal aid programs in the commonwealth by funding MLAC’s annual budget request. The funding MLAC receives provides the infrastructure that connects and supports the network of legal aid organizations across the commonwealth by covering operational costs, such as rent and insurance, and staff salaries.

Now in its 24th year, this year’s Talk to the Hill will take place virtually. I am honored to be one of the speakers at the event, which will also feature remarks from Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, BBA President Chinh H. Pham, and others who support increased funding for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, including clients whose lives have benefitted from receiving civil legal aid. 

Following the speaking portion of the program, attendees are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to support the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation's budget request for fiscal year 2024, which is $49 million. Obtaining this additional funding for legal aid will improve access to justice by ensuring that legal aid organizations in Massachusetts have the resources, training and staff to assist more low-income individuals and families.

Fortunately, based on last year’s experience, our advocacy at this event has been as well received virtually, as it was before the pandemic when it was held in-person at the State House. Last year, thanks to lawyers’ advocacy and a supportive governor and Legislature, MLAC received its requested $41 million budget allotment.

But even with yearly increases in legal aid funding, MLAC-sponsored organizations still have to turn away nearly half of the qualified individuals seeking legal assistance for life-altering legal challenges involving health care, family law and domestic violence, immigration, education, and other critical concerns. With these unmet needs, it remains vital that we come together as a community and continue our advocacy each year. 

I urge each of you to get involved by signing up for Talk to the Hill where you’ll be able to talk to your elected representatives about the importance of civil legal aid funding and ask them to support MLAC’s $49 million budget request.

With the power of our community, we can turn talk into action that improves access to justice for our state’s most vulnerable residents and families.