Bench and bar to explore theme 'Affording Justice' in Saturday forums

Issue January 2005

Members of the Massachusetts judiciary and attorneys from across the state will have their annual opportunity to debate, dissect and discuss critical issues facing the bar during the MBA's yearly Bench/Bar Forum, on Saturday, March 5 as part of final day of Annual Conference 2005.

The theme for this year's program is "Affording Justice: Preserving and Expanding Legal Representation for Individual Citizens." It will be the subject of a plenary session moderated by the Hon. John M. Greaney of the Supreme Judicial Court, followed by three breakout sessions that will explore related issues.

This year's Bench/Bar Planning Committees is co-chaired by the Hon. Cynthia J. Cohen and attorney Marc Breakstone. Other members of the committee are the Hon. Jay D. Blitzman; the Hon. Gordon I. Doerfer; Lee Gartenberg, Esq.; Denise Squillante, Esq.; Jayne Tyrrell, Esq.; and the Hon. Catherine A. White,

According to the committee, this year's forum theme stems from recognition that members of the private bar have never faced greater challenges in providing legal representation to individual citizens.

In recent years, because of the low statutory rate of compensation, more than 200 Massachusetts attorneys have found it necessary to remove their names from the panel of court-appointed attorneys representing indigent parties in criminal, juvenile and child welfare cases.

Consistent with national trends, more than 60 percent of litigants with domestic relations cases in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court are representing themselves, the vast majority for economic reasons.

Throughout the country, vigorous efforts are being made to restrict the use of contingent fee arrangements in personal injury, securities and other types of cases involving individual plaintiffs. The program will explore whether these developments are isolated or part of a disturbing trend that jeopardizes justice for individual citizens. It also will look at what judges and lawyers can do to preserve and reinvigorate the provision of legal representation to "real people."

Following the plenary session, attendees will have their choice of three breakout sessions to take part in. Topics for these lively programs are: The future of court-appointed counsel in Massachusetts: Is it just a question of money?; Reconnecting self-represented litigants with the private bar: Rethinking the full-service representation model; and, Contingent-fee practice: Current standards and future challenges. Speakers and program details will be announced soon.

Saturday's Bench/Bar Forum will end with the Annual Conference 2005 Closing Luncheon, featuring an address by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall and a presentation on the MBA's Mock Trial Program.