How can we ensure effective assistance for everyone with an essential civil legal need?
Massachusetts was awarded a grant to develop a strategic action plan for improving access to justice throughout the Commonwealth. The Access to Justice Commission, the courts, legal aid providers, bar associations, law schools, social service organizations, litigants, community groups, and other stakeholders are collaborating in this effort. We will assess the resources currently available to assist residents who cannot afford a lawyer for their essential legal needs – such as those involving housing, consumer debt, and family law – and develop a statewide plan for addressing gaps in those services.
The grant is being provided through the Justice for All project, which is generously supported by the Public Welfare Foundation and housed at the National Center for State Courts. The Justice for All project was established to implement a 2015 resolution by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, which endorsed the goal of providing 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs. Twenty five states applied for grants, and Massachusetts is one of seven that received them.
The project is being managed by the following team:
- Honorable Ralph D. Gants, Chief Justice, Supreme Judicial Court
- Honorable Geraldine S. Hines, Supreme Judicial Court, Co-Chair, Access to Justice Commission
- Susan M. Finegan, Esq., Co-Chair, Access to Justice Commission; Chair, Pro Bono Committee, Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, PC
- Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Esq., Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
- Russell Engler, Esq., Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs, New England Law, Boston
- Honorable Dina E. Fein, Special Advisor for Access to Justice Initiatives
- Chip Phinney, Esq., Deputy Legal Counsel, Supreme Judicial Court
- Marilyn Wellington, Executive Director, Board of Bar Examiners
Marc Lauritsen of Capstone Practice Systems, a Massachusetts lawyer and educator, has been engaged to facilitate the project.
The project culminated in December 2017 with the publication of the Massachusetts Justice For All Strategic Action Plan. An implementation effort will ensue in 2018.
We have held four regional meetings to gather input from the public and from those who provide services and other forms of assistance to people with essential legal needs. These were in Springfield, Andover, Boston, and Dartmouth. Each began with a general open session, and continued with breakouts to discuss issues in the contexts of consumer debt, housing, and family law.
A statewide conference, being held at Harvard Law School on June 9th, will draw together an invited group that reflects a broad spectrum of stakeholders from across the Commonwealth. In addition to the substantive areas mentioned above we will take up cross-cutting questions about the overall access-to-justice ‘ecosystem’ and its infrastructure. The conference goals are to spur actions and shape strategies for achieving 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.
Further activities are being planned, and details will be provided here as they become available.
For more information
Read the ‘Justice for All 2017 Mid-Project Report‘ that summarizes the June 9th conference and events leading up to it.
Read the ‘Massachusetts Justice For All Strategic Action Plan‘ (Dec. 22, 2017) that outlines the progress of the JFA Project and the goals it seeks to implement moving forward.