At the 45th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the
Massachusetts Bar Foundation on Jan. 14, Gov. Deval Patrick urged
the nearly 250 supporters on hand at Boston's Colonnade Hotel to
continue helping the state's neediest citizens obtain access to
Newly elected MBF President Joseph P.J. Vrabel commended
Patrick's commitment to public service and protection of civil
rights and legal aid funding in honoring him with the MBF Great
Friend of Justice Award.
"We recognize this governor for doing what he can to protect our
justice system," Vrabel said.
Patrick acknowledged the state's dire economic situation,
pledging that he would keep the needs of the court system in mind
during the budget process and do what he could to minimize
"We are in the worst economic downturn in 80 years, and it has
hurt a lot of people," he said. "I have felt, as I bet you do, that
so many people are still being left behind, that there is so much
He extolled the work of the MBF in helping provide access to
justice to the needy. On the eve of Martin Luther King weekend,
Patrick urged the audience to remember the slain civil rights
leader's example and serve others.
"Service is what we must all be about," he said. "It seems
important to me that we come back to that sense of service, because
service is power."
Noting that the aggregate effort of many individuals can make a
significant difference, Patrick said, "State government has to do
all it can, but we as individuals all have to do what we can."
Vrabel noted that "last year was an extraordinarily difficult
year," but the foundation still distributed $5 million to 107
nonprofit organizations, in part by drawing nearly $2.5 million out
of its stabilization fund to offset the decrease in monies supplied
by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Grants
Vrabel said the MBF will probably need to dip into its savings
again this year to provide a consistent level of funding.
"We are prepared to do so to keep the level of our grants as
high as possible," he told the audience. "Please continue to stand
with us. Please continue to be generous in any way you can - with
your time and expertise, with your resources. There are so many in
need, and as lawyers, we know how important access to justice is
and that each one of us can play a valuable role in it."
With burgeoning demand and a shrinking pool of funds, MBF
Immediate Past President Laurence M. Johnson asked, "Where do we go
from here?" One plan, he said, is to broaden the MBF Fellowship
Program with three programs: The President's Circle Program,
Justice Circle for Annual Giving, and the Law Firm Partner
Johnson said he hoped that Massachusetts lawyers would continue
a proud tradition of generosity.
"The response of the bar to the Massachusetts Bar Foundation
over the 45 years since its founding has been extraordinary," he
After Patrick spoke, the MBF premiered a 12-minute video
highlighting some of the people who have been helped by
organizations that receive MBF funds. The MBF will distribute the
video to advocacy groups, local bar associations and law firms, as
well as post it on its Web site at www.massbarfoundation.org. The
MBF hopes to increase understanding of its mission and demonstrate
the ways that funds can make a significant difference in people's
"We were so thrilled that Legal Talk Network donated their time
and expertise to produce this video for us," said MBF Executive
Director Elizabeth Lynch. "It provides wonderful examples of the
work the MBF supports, and demonstrates the important role the
legal community plays in our efforts."
After the event, Vrabel said the severe recession had made the
perennial challenge of providing access to justice that much more
"So many more people are in need," he said. "The difficult part
of the economy is that everybody expects us to cut back, and we
just can't. The sad part is that every year, more and more people
need our help."