It’s that time of year again, when the BBA building becomes abuzz with activity as Section Steering Committee meetings and brown bag and CLE programs are once again in full swing. With the new year underway, we wanted to take a moment to offer a refresher about our public policy opportunities and procedures.
Our Public Policy Procedures offer a great resource for learning about BBA policy processes and highlight our key focus areas. We are always looking to be involved in proposals that fall within our mission, which is to:
- Increase access to justice,
- Provide for the fair and efficient administration of justice, and
- Enhance the quality of the law
The procedures also highlight the myriad of ways in which policy related to these areas manifests at the BBA, including:
- Providing comments on proposed changes to court rules
- Drafting, endorsing, or providing feedback on legislation
- Filing and joining amicus briefs
One of the more common policy opportunities here at the BBA involves the solicitation of Steering Committee comments on proposed amendments to court rules. As part of this process, we send an email to the Section Co-Chairs, notifying them of an opportunity to comment, and if the proposed amendments do relate to their practice area, the Co-Chairs forward them along to the full Steering Committee for more in-depth review and potentially a discussion at their next meeting. When a Steering Committee has an invitation to comment on their agenda, I, or Mike Avitzur, the Director of Government Relations, will attend, take notes, answer any questions, and assist in the development of comments should the Steering Committee have them. Then, the comments are reviewed by BBA leadership and submitted by the BBA on behalf of the relevant Steering Committee(s).
We love facilitating the opportunity for Sections to weigh in from their particular, expert perspectives on important changes that may impact their practice area. This also provides the courts with an opportunity to hear directly from practitioners that will be impacted by the proposed amendments. And the courts have a history of carefully considering the submissions and often adjusting the final versions of the rules as a result of the concerns and feedback raised in the Section comments.
For more reading on the Comment process and the impact of these submissions, be sure to check out:
Sometimes, however, the request for input will come not from the courts, but internally from the BBA. Here in the Government Relations Department, we often reach out to the Sections for their expert opinions and analysis on a range of other internal and external policy requests, including requests for the BBA to endorse legislation, to file or join an amicus brief, or to respond to various current event and policy developments locally and nationally. In these instances, we rely on Sections to weigh in from the perspective of their particular practice area as a way to ensure that we thoroughly understand the issue and any impacts it may have.
Public Policy Request
Beyond responding to requests for comment coming directly from the Government Relations Department, we also encourage Sections, acting through their co-chairs, to prepare their own policy proposal requests by filling out and submitting this summary sheet. These proactive proposals can seek a number of actions from the BBA, including creating and drafting new legislation, supporting or opposing existing legislation (with or without further comments), providing comments on regulations, rules or standing orders, or something else entirely.
As you can see, these requests can be used to take much more nuanced positions than simply support for or opposition to an existing piece of legislation. For example, just this year, the Human Trafficking Subcommittee of the Delivery of Legal Services Section Steering Committee submitted a proposal seeking BBA endorsement of legislation that would introduce a streamlined process of post-conviction relief for survivors of human trafficking. There were two separate bills filed, which, though different, would each accomplish this goal. Instead of getting into the relative merits of the bills, the BBA instead endorsed a broad position in support of the procedures, and urged the conference committee to ensure that the opportunity to include these important measures in the criminal justice reform package was not missed. Thankfully, these measures were included in the final package (which also included a number of our other recommendations!).
Amicus Brief Request
While we already noted that Sections are often asked to provide comments on amicus brief requests from outside the BBA, members are also encouraged to submit their own requests if they believe the litigation at issue fits the specific criteria. According to the Amicus Brief Policy, the BBA will, “as a general rule…only file or join an amicus brief related to the practice of law or the administration of justice,” though “possible exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The drafting or joining of a brief, however, takes a significant amount of time and resources, so we urge those requesting BBA involvement to begin this process as early as possible. For requests that require the BBA to draft a brief, three months is typically required to obtain the appropriate approvals from BBA leadership and prepare the brief for filing. If, however, the request asks the BBA to join a brief being prepared by another party, only two months is required, with the draft brief being submitted to the BBA for review one month prior to the filing deadline.
Our Amicus Committee has a long history of submitting briefs on some of the most significant and timely matters facing the profession and the general public, including the Dookhan Drug Lab Scandal, Access to DNA Testing, and Diversity in the Legal Profession.
Just this year, the Amicus Committee worked hard to produce three briefs related to juvenile justice, prosecutorial misconduct, and attorney-client privilege and First Amendment rights. Read more about these briefs:
This year, we are excited to work with you on the full range of policy opportunities here at the BBA. Looking ahead, you can be sure that we will continue advocating for funding for civil legal aid, the Trial Court, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, as well as our long-held criminal justice reform priorities, including opposition to the death penalty and repeal of mandatory minimums. And, ICYMI, be sure to get up to speed on the report recently issued by our Immigration Working Group and the accompanying principles and positions adopted by the BBA Council last month!
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association