Pictured above, left to right: John Carroll, Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Gerry Singsen, and Justice Geraldine Hines
Each year, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) hosts the Catalyst for Change Award Reception to honor the accomplishments of those in the legal profession working to advance MLRI’s mission of advancing economic, racial, and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and community outreach. At this year’s reception, held on September 27th, 2017, each of the three honorees was a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice community.
The namesake award was delivered to Access to Justice Fellow John Carroll for his career-long dedication to serving those who cannot afford legal representation. MLRI’s Distinguished Alum Award was granted to former Commission Co-Chair Justice Geraldine Hines for her perseverance in removing barriers to justice in the Massachusetts courts. MRLI also presented a special award to the Commission’s former consultant Gerry Singsen for his lifetime commitment to civil legal aid.
We are thrilled to celebrate the lives and achievements of three valued leaders of the Access to Justice initiative!
Below, we would like to share the remarks delivered by former Greater Boston Legal Services director Bob Sable describing Gerry Singsen’s long and dedicated career in legal services:
“The problem with presenting a Lifetime Service Award to Gerry Singsen is that he truly has had a life time of service and I only have a few moments to tell about it. To make it more difficult, I have worked with him during those 49 years and I know many of the details. So, I will try to talk fast but I‘ll have to leave out a lot of good stuff.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Columbia law School and clerking for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, Gary began his service a as staff attorney and Heber Smith Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County. In four years, his achievements were more than most of us do in a life time. He litigated New York’s welfare residency case a case that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme court, he won a seminal voting rights case, created a county wide Community development effort and became a Unit director.
But that was just the beginning for Gerry. He was soon a leader and visionary in managing and funding Legal services for the poor. As Deputy Director of Community Action for Legal Services in New York City, he became nationally known for establishing innovative, effective management and performance systems.
As a result, he was called upon, not once, not twice but four different times to serve the federal legal services at critical junctions. He helped start up the Federal Legal Service Corporation in 1975. He came back to establish a funding policy in 1978 that guided the largest expansion of federal civil legal services ever. Then there were some bad times. In 1981 ,as Vice President for Finance and Management, he played a key role in the fight to save legal services from the Reagan administration. And finally he returned in 1994 to help fight the Gingrich efforts to cut back legal services.
Gerry spread his knowledge and vision nation-wide and even internationally. He led endless workshops throughout the country. He went to Harvard law school and became the director pg the Program on the Legal Profession and was the founder and four-year coordinator of the Ford Foundation funded Intra University Consortium on Poverty Law.
He wrote more than 28 articles on all aspects of legal services for the poor from finance, to lay advocacy, to hotlines, to the role of law schools. Perhaps his most influential writing was “High Quality Legal Representation: The Fundamental Goal for Legal Services for the Poor” in which he set the national standard that the goal of legal services was not just to provide legal representation but to do so in manner that improved the lives of the poor people
Along the way, he was smart enough to persuade Jayne Tyrrell, now the head of the Massachusetts IOLTA program, to marry him. (By that way that marriage should earn him a separate award for “great moves by a legal services lawyer”). Together Gerry and Jane formed “Singsen and Tyrrell” and taught generations of legal services staff how to improve their agencies financial and program management.
For many in Massachusetts, Gerry is best known for his work with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. He led the state planning effort that led to its creation of in 2005 and served as the consultant to the Commission s until his recent retirement. With Gerry’s guidance and hard work the Commission has increased funding for Massachusetts programs, has identified best practices for systemic advocacy, for intake, screening, and hotline processes and for expanding the civil right to counsel.
Did I mention he is also a great cook?
Gerry is not perfect. Sometimes he is a bit too brilliant, at least for me. Many times I have sat through his lengthy presentations (and they are always lengthy) and got totally lost. But later, reading the transcript or talking others or asking Gerry questions, I would realize that once again he had great insights into making legal services better and was teaching us how to do it.
So, on behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, I am proud to present the Life Time Service Award to an Advocate, Manager, Visionary, Teacher, Author, Leader and above all “Life time fighter for Justice for the Poor” — Gerry Singsen!”