Patrick encourages efforts to assist the needy at MBF’s 45th Gala

Issue February 2010 By Bill Archambeault

At the 45th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation on Jan. 14, Gov. Deval Patrick urged the nearly 250 supporters on hand at Boston's Colonnade Hotel to continue helping the state's neediest citizens obtain access to justice.

Newly elected MBF President Joseph P.J. Vrabel commended Patrick's commitment to public service and protection of civil rights and legal aid funding in honoring him with the MBF Great Friend of Justice Award.

"We recognize this governor for doing what he can to protect our justice system," Vrabel said.

Patrick acknowledged the state's dire economic situation, pledging that he would keep the needs of the court system in mind during the budget process and do what he could to minimize cuts.

"We are in the worst economic downturn in 80 years, and it has hurt a lot of people," he said. "I have felt, as I bet you do, that so many people are still being left behind, that there is so much unmet need."

He extolled the work of the MBF in helping provide access to justice to the needy. On the eve of Martin Luther King weekend, Patrick urged the audience to remember the slain civil rights leader's example and serve others.

"Service is what we must all be about," he said. "It seems important to me that we come back to that sense of service, because service is power."

Noting that the aggregate effort of many individuals can make a significant difference, Patrick said, "State government has to do all it can, but we as individuals all have to do what we can."

Vrabel noted that "last year was an extraordinarily difficult year," but the foundation still distributed $5 million to 107 nonprofit organizations, in part by drawing nearly $2.5 million out of its stabilization fund to offset the decrease in monies supplied by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Grants Program.

Vrabel said the MBF will probably need to dip into its savings again this year to provide a consistent level of funding.

"We are prepared to do so to keep the level of our grants as high as possible," he told the audience. "Please continue to stand with us. Please continue to be generous in any way you can - with your time and expertise, with your resources. There are so many in need, and as lawyers, we know how important access to justice is and that each one of us can play a valuable role in it."

With burgeoning demand and a shrinking pool of funds, MBF Immediate Past President Laurence M. Johnson asked, "Where do we go from here?" One plan, he said, is to broaden the MBF Fellowship Program with three programs: The President's Circle Program, Justice Circle for Annual Giving, and the Law Firm Partner Program.

Johnson said he hoped that Massachusetts lawyers would continue a proud tradition of generosity.

"The response of the bar to the Massachusetts Bar Foundation over the 45 years since its founding has been extraordinary," he said.

After Patrick spoke, the MBF premiered a 12-minute video highlighting some of the people who have been helped by organizations that receive MBF funds. The MBF will distribute the video to advocacy groups, local bar associations and law firms, as well as post it on its Web site at The MBF hopes to increase understanding of its mission and demonstrate the ways that funds can make a significant difference in people's lives.

"We were so thrilled that Legal Talk Network donated their time and expertise to produce this video for us," said MBF Executive Director Elizabeth Lynch. "It provides wonderful examples of the work the MBF supports, and demonstrates the important role the legal community plays in our efforts."

After the event, Vrabel said the severe recession had made the perennial challenge of providing access to justice that much more difficult.

"So many more people are in need," he said. "The difficult part of the economy is that everybody expects us to cut back, and we just can't. The sad part is that every year, more and more people need our help."