Foundation honors IOLTA executive director as 'Great Friend'

Issue October 2004

For her dedication to providing legal service to the poor and improving access to justice, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation this month honored Jayne B. Tyrrell as a "Great Friend of Justice" during the foundation's grantee reception held last month.

This fall couldn't have been a more appropriate month to award this top honor to Tyrrell, who serves as executive director of the Massachusetts Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) Program. This year, Massachusetts ranks first for having the highest IOLTA revenue in the country, even topping states that have many more lawyers than the commonwealth, such as California and New York.

The Massachusetts IOLTA program generated $16.5 million. Last year, the commonwealth ranked second in revenue, falling just behind New Jersey. Tyrrell credits the revenue rating to the relationship between IOLTA and banks, which have provided a special interest rate for IOLTA accounts and do not charge fees, as well as an increase in home refinancing.

"The MBF Board really had an easy choice to make this year when we considered who we would honor for our Great Friend of Justice Award," said Massachusetts Bar Foundation President Anthony Stankiewicz. "Jayne has worked tirelessly over the last 11 years to maximize the income for grants that are awarded by the foundation, and we are proud to be able to recognize her for that.

"In addition she's been a leader in this arena on a number of fronts - forging stronger relationships with the banking community, serving as a key member of the national litigation team that fought, and won, to hold IOLTA programs as constitutional, and her myriad of other access to justice activities," he added. "And here's the important part - she makes an impact every day, but never seeks recognition or the limelight. The foundation is here to change that and we're proud to have the opportunity to do so."

The Great Friend of Justice Award was established in 2000 to recognize members of the community that have helped the foundation advance its mission to increase access to justice. Previous recipients include Perkins Smith & Cohen, Capital Crossing Bank, Citizens Bank, Eastern Bank and former MBA Executive Director Susan Waters. Last year, past MBF President Margaret "MarDee" D. Xifaras, an MBF Louis D. Brandeis Life Fellow, received the award.

The IOLTA program's purpose is to maximize income for grants to provide free legal services for the poor and improvement in the administration of justice. Funds from IOLTA are distributed to three charitable entities: the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the Boston Bar Foundation and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp.

Through Tyrrell's leadership, developing strong cooperative relationships with the banking community, the Massachusetts banks have adopted and maintained more favorable administrative policies toward IOLTA than almost anywhere else in the country.

An important part of Tyrrell's work has been to build stronger and more effective relationships between the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and the Boston Bar Foundation, encouraging regular communication and seeking collaboration on legislative and litigation. She has served as president of the National Association of IOLTA programs and was a key member of the national litigation strategy team that fought for a decade and ultimately prevailed in a Supreme Court case holding IOLTA programs to be constitutional. Two similar attempts to hold the Massachusetts IOLTA program to be illegal have also been successfully defended.

Tyrrell has written many articles and booklets about IOLTA and pro bono, including the updated booklet distributed to all new lawyers by the Board of Bar Overseers, Client Funds: Avoiding the Ethical Pitfalls in the Practice of Law. She also has drafted chapters and articles for Massachusetts Bar Association books Fees & Client Funds and the latest edition of Traps for the Unwary.

For her part, Tyrrell said she is excited to receive the award, but also said she is just doing her job. She enjoys her position because it allows her to look for ways to expand access to justice and work with people who devote so much time to legal services. She also commended her staff.

"I have so much admiration for people who are dedicated and committed to legal services because they spend so many of their own hours working for others," she said.

Tyrrell herself has dedicated her entire legal career to legal services. She also has participated in numerous access-to-justice activities. Prior to her IOLTA position, she ran a pro bono legal services program, created innovative community legal education efforts, worked in a legal services office, was a staff member for the Cox Committee on Court Reform and a staff member for the first Massachusetts study of legal needs of the poor.

"There are so many people in need of critical, critical services that legal services actually takes care of," Tyrrell said. "People don't look at legal services as a basic need, but on so many levels it is a basic need or can be."

While working on a Ralph Nader project called Little Injustices in law school, Tyrrell co-authored a manual on how to use small-claims court. It was among the projects that showed her the importance of empowering individuals with knowledge. Later, she went to work for what was then called the Boston Legal Aid Project, which is now Legal Services.

"I was involved in the first legal needs study and got a first-hand look as I interviewed low-income people about their needs," Tyrrell said. "It was interesting going from apartment to apartment, talking about how awful conditions were in their apartment, how they had spent 14 years trying to get a divorce and how they were unable to get access to health car. I literally went door to door and it was just a real eye opener.

"You feel so wonderful being able to help people."

Tyrrell also has been a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section Council for five years and was on the Massachusetts Bar Foundation's Grants Committee this year.

In the Women's Bar Association, Tyrrell has served on the Endorsements and Appointments Committee and Legislative Policy Committee, chaired the Media Committee and is currently vice president. A long term-member of the Boston Bar Association's Delivery of Legal Services Section, she was co-chair for two years. She also served on the BBA's Pro Bono Task Force in 1993, Civility Committee in 2000 and Task Force on Unrepresented Litigants in 1998-2000. As a younger lawyer she was a member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Lawyers Professional Service Responsibilities. She was a board member of the Massachusetts Council for Public Justice for a decade.

She has a special interest in access to justice for unrepresented litigants. Along with her leading role in the Boston Bar Association Task Force, she led the effort that established the information booth in the lobby of the Brooke and Superior Courthouses. This interest also led her to membership in the Trial Court's Pro Se Conference Committee in 2000, current participation in the Pro Se Data Committee of the SJC Committee on Courthouse Standards and Design and a leadership role in the ongoing Navigating the Legal Maze Workshops, sponsored by the Trial Court Law Library Advisory Committee.

For the last decade or more, one of Tyrrell's most valued roles has been her mentoring and counseling members of Boston's legal community as they considered their next career moves.