MASSACHUSETTS ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATE – April 9, 2020

MASSACHUSETTS ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION

April 9, 2020 

UPDATE

 

Greetings:

We hope you are well and safe during these times.

Over the past month, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission has created a COVID-19 Task Force with the goal to effectively collaborate and marshal resources to assist people with their legal needs statewide.  The Task Force is comprised of representatives from legal services, law firm pro bono, law schools, the court, social services, the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association, which includes several of our Commission members. It has met weekly since the outbreak of the virus.

The Task Force has accomplished an incredible amount of work in a short time and we are grateful to our Commission Co-Chair Sue Finegan for leading this effort and to the many Task Force volunteers who have generously dedicated their time and talent to this endeavor.

The Task Force has three committees:

Pro Bono Committee: The Pro Bono Committee seeks to identify emerging needs and coordinate responses by the legal aid and pro bono communities, including attorneys, retired attorneys and law students.

The Pro Bono Committee surveyed legal aid organizations across the state to identify emerging pandemic related legal needs. The Committee is now engaged in developing processes to coordinate pro bono responses statewide.

Co-Chairs:  Mia Friedman, Pro Bono Manager, Fish & Richardson; Elizabeth Ennen, Chair Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services and Director, Northeastern University School of Law’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy; and Meredith Palmer, Pro Bono Director, Community Legal Aid.

Communication/Materials Committee: The Communications and Materials Committee works to promote the creation (if necessary) and distribution to non-lawyers of clear, accurate information about changes in the law and legal procedures (access to courthouses, moratoria on evictions or foreclosures, new rights or resources like rental assistance or unemployment access changes).  This Committee has also provided feedback on the way the court’s website is experienced by users in an effort to assist the court in making the information as clear as possible.

Co-Chairs: Rochelle Hahn, Co-Director, Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project and Co-Managing Attorney, Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute; and Ben Golden, Commissioner and Health Law Clinical Fellow, Suffolk Law.

Access to Courts Committee:  The Access to Courts Committee is working with the courts to address barriers to access created by courts’ moving online and legal/social service providers’ changing their service models and retracting from community-based settings.

After consultation with the respective legal and social services providers in the areas of housing law, family law and consumer debt, the Committee provided recommendations to the courts on emergency issues arising in connection with the closure of court buildings and its move to online/remote access.  The Committee continues to engage in dialogue with the courts on these important issues.

In addition, this Committee is collaborating with the Suffolk Law Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology in its assembly line project designed to rapidly create mobile-friendly online court forms and pro se materials for key areas of urgent legal need amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Co-Chairs:  Esme Caramello, Commissioner and Faculty Director, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Clinical Professor of Law; Laura Gal, Commissioner and Supervising Attorney for Family Law, Northeast Legal Aid; David Colarusso, Clinical Fellow and Director of the Legal Innovation & Technology Lab, Suffolk Law.

The Boston Bar Association provided coverage of the MA ATJ Taskforce on its website which you can read here.

Our goal is to collaborate, coordinate and avoid duplication of resources in an effort to increase access to justice during this public health crisis.  Please reach out to Carolyn Goodwin, Director, Massachusetts Access to Justice cgoodwin@mlac.org with any input or questions.