Public Service Connection: The Contributions of Lawyers in Our Community
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Hundreds Gathered to Advocate for Civil Legal Aid Funding at Virtual Talk to the Hill 
 
Hundreds of lawyers and advocates gathered virtually at the annual 'Talk to the Hill' to advocate for adequate funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest provider of funding for legal services programs in the state. The COVID-19 crisis has amplified the need for civil legal aid to help vulnerable residents facing issues related to housing, unemployment, debt, health care, domestic violence, and more. 
 
Wednesday's event featured remarks from leaders in the Boston legal community including Attorney General Maura Healey, Chief Justice Kimberly Budd of the Supreme Judicial Court and BBA President Marty Murphy. In addition, clients whose lives have been transformed by civil legal aid shared their stories with attendees. 
 
One voice that was sorely missed was that of the late Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, a champion for civil legal aid and equal justice for all. Event host Louis Tompros paid tribute to the late Chief and shared a video of his remarks at a past Walk to the Hill where he reminded the audience that “funding civil legal aid is not only the right thing to do—it is the smart thing to do."
Watch BBA President Marty Murphy's Remarks from the Event
 
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The Work Continues
 
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During the event, Chief Justice Kimberly Budd made a strong case for increased funding for civil legal aid. "This is the mission of civil legal aid: to promote equal justice for all. Your support for that mission. And the support of your legislators will bring us closer to our common goal of building a fair and just society," said Chief Justice Budd.
 
The Boston Globe published a story on her remarks and the importance of civil legal aid, featuring a quote from BBA President Marty Murphy.
 
“The legal system is, unfortunately, so complicated that trying to navigate it without a lawyer is just really a challenge for people who are in [one of] the most vulnerable positions they’re ever going to be in. It causes havoc, really, in the courts when people are unrepresented," said Murphy.

Facilitating access to justice is a pillar of the Boston Bar Association's mission and participating in the annual Talk to the Hill event is one of the many ways the association contributes to efforts to ensure access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth. As the legal community continues the momentum from Talk to the Hill, we've outlined some of the BBA's ongoing work in this area. 
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Innovative Policy Research & Advocacy 
 
Our ground-breaking 2014 report, Investing in Justice: A Roadmap to Cost-Effective Funding of Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, demonstrated that funding for civil legal aid actually produces a positive return on investment for the Commonwealth. In 2020, we returned to the subject with a follow-up report, Investing in Fairness, Justice and Housing Stability: Assessing the Benefits of Full Legal Representation in Eviction Cases in Massachusetts, that updated the figures as to housing cases in particular, but confirmed the underlying finding.
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Mobilizing Lawyers to Address Urgent Needs 
 
When the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was lifted this fall, there was an increased need for volunteer attorneys to represent low-income litigants, both tenants and landlords, in Housing Court. To meet this need, the BBA hosted a training series to prepare practitioners to accept a pro bono housing case and help clients navigate Governor Baker's new and expanded housing resources. Hundreds of lawyers participated in these virtual trainings which are available to stream on-demand for those interested in joining this effort to help those affected by the housing crisis.
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Resources to Access Justice in Remote Proceedings
 
This past spring, the BBA joined forces with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s COVID-19 Task Force to draft resource guides for both practitioners and self-represented litigants attending virtual hearings. These guides are composed of the best practices and fundamental information necessary to successfully navigate telephonic and video hearings in the Courts. They also provide self-represented litigants clear, comprehensive information for attending a virtual hearing and how to continue accessing the Courts during the closures. After their release, the guides were shared widely on various listservs, amongst practitioners, on judicial websites, and were lauded for their straightforward and helpful approach for practitioners and pro se litigants alike.
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Funding to Legal Services Organizations & Non-Profits
 
In 2020, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), the charitable affiliate of the Boston Bar Association, provided $1,172,500 in grants to 25 organizations that provide critical legal services and advocacy for members of the Greater Boston community in need.
 
The legal support provided by BBF grantee organizations ensures that our most vulnerable community members can obtain equitable access to life-altering support during these challenging times. These organizations assist clients that include: those seeking access to unemployment and food assistance benefits, communities of color facing unjust discrimination, low-income landlords and tenants facing housing insecurity, incarcerated individuals, survivors of domestic violence seeking safety from their abusers, and immigrants and asylum-seekers hoping to make a new life in the United States.
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