Just one week to go until Walk to the Hill. . . Next Thursday, January 26th, attorneys from across the Commonwealth will gather en mass for the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. The Boston Bar Association has been proud to support this lobbying event from its infancy.
Yes, some things have changed since the inaugural Walk to the Hill in 2000 – but the message remains the same: state funding for legal services – and the MLAC line item (0321-1600) – is essential to ensuring access to justice for all. This year, the funding request for the MLAC line item is $14.5 million.
Here are some facts…in 2000, Walk to the Hill was held in May and a handful of other local bar associations also joined the effort. A mere 75 attorneys made the trek to the State House to urge lawmakers to adequately fund legal services. General counsel from 14 companies signed on to a letter sent to then-Governor Paul Cellucci urging him to approve the budget with the $1 million bump the Legislature gave to MLAC intact.
Now, Walk to the Hill is scheduled for January to coincide with the start of the state budgeting season. Last year, despite having been re-scheduled due to a snowstorm, more than 500 attorneys turned out for this event. An additional 30 local and specialty bar associations from across the state co-sponsored it. Our presence at Walk to the Hill helps to ensure that the MLAC line item is discussed throughout the budget process.
Funding for civil legal services has never been just a legal community issue. The business community’s support for legal services is very important. Today, the number of general counsel who sign on to the letter sent to the Legislature and Governor Patrick has grown from 14 to nearly 100 and includes the G.C.’s of Harvard University, John Hancock, EMC2, BJ’s Wholesale Club, National Grid and Sovereign Bank.
We measure our success not just by how much additional money is allocated for civil legal services or by how many attorneys show up for Walk to the Hill. The efforts behind adequate funding for civil legal services don’t begin or end with Walk to the Hill but take place all year long. We do a variety of things including meeting with Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Murray, Governor Patrick’s legal staff, and other members of the Legislature — trying to win support every step of the way. The goal of these efforts is to educate and inform about the need for and the impact of legal services in these lawmakers’ own communities. Adequately funding civil legal services is an investment in people and actually saves the Commonwealth money. Not to mention the fact that there is no constituent service more important than civil legal aid.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association