Celebrating the efforts to preserve access to justice

Issue March 2010 By Valerie A. Yarashus

"The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped," said Hubert H. Humphrey in his speech at the dedication of the Hubert H. Humphrey building in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4, 1977.

As attorneys, we are in a unique and privileged position to promote access to justice and equal justice to all through the court system; both of which have been cornerstone beliefs of the Massachusetts Bar Association since its inception 100 years ago.

Throughout the year, we are able to put these beliefs into action. Most recently, the MBA last month co-sponsored the annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, where a record amount of lawyers participated to advocate for legal services funding. The past year's economic troubles have taken a toll on civil legal aid in Massachusetts. Income from the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program has plummeted 63 percent since fiscal year 2008 and is not expected to increase in fiscal year 2010. Compounding this loss is the decrease in the civil legal aid line item - from $11 million in fiscal year 2009 to $9.5 million in fiscal year 2010.

As powerful as this annual event is at raising awareness for the dire need of appropriate legal services funding, individual efforts help the cause as well. It brings great pride to witness the remarkable commitment of our peers doing their part on an individual basis to preserve access to justice.

One of the many honors of serving as MBA president is recognizing those exemplary fellow attorneys. Each spring, the MBA's Access to Justice Awards Luncheon honors lawyers throughout the commonwealth who apply their expertise and energy to represent those in our society who need it most. It never fails that those honorees are perhaps the most humble about the critical representation they provide.

Last year, then-President Edward W. McIntyre spoke of the "humble service delivered unpretentiously by our guests of honor and all the admirable attorneys between [MBA inaugural President Richard] Olney's time and today." This is really a key ingredient of understanding the motivation of all of our honorees. There is satisfaction in the work itself, and knowing that some good has been accomplished, whether or not the client ever expresses the gratitude directly.

At our most recent Leadership Roundtable for MBA leadership, we discussed Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: The Story of Success. In it, Gladwell writes:

"It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I'm guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money. Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful."

As we congratulate our 2010 Access to Justice awardees, we should all be reminded of the ways in which our own work is meaningful, and how its meaning and impact can be enhanced further.

We can learn from Boston-based firm Fish and Richardson and attorneys Patti Prunhuber, Thomas Kosman, Michael Angelini, Beth Eisenberg and Michael Connolly and our other fellow attorneys who work so diligently to do their part in providing equal justice for all. Our honorees know better than anyone that the work itself is its own reward.