Let's make meaningful contributions

Issue December 2014 By Marsha V. Kazarosian

One of the wonderful things about belonging to the Massachusetts Bar Association is the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to our profession, our system of justice and our communities.

The MBA is proud to partner with organizations dedicated to helping the less fortunate, especially at this special time of year. The MBA's Young Lawyers Division just concluded their Thanksgiving Food Drive with the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, and many families had a very special Thanksgiving due to the acts of kindness of the MBA members who donated.

We have several ongoing programs that also provide special holiday cheer for children and families in the commonwealth. The MBA has once again partnered with Cradles to Crayons to collect new and like-new children's items, especially warm winter gear, in support of the Gear Up for Winter program. This year we are also making a donation to Christmas in the City (CITC) and sending a team of MBA volunteers to help set up CITC's hallmark event, which provides a magical day and personalized toys for children living in shelters.

Each of these programs and "giving" opportunities are important to everyone, and provide much needed help to those less fortunate. This is also an opportunity to focus on the unique ability we have as MBA members to make a meaningful contribution to our own justice system.

When we advocate for higher salaries for assistant district attorneys, public defenders and bar advocates, we give back to the very people who uphold the rule of law every day. And when we never stop advocating for voir dire, we bring a new level of fairness and transparency to the judicial system. While we have accomplished a great deal in the past year, we must continue to make our collective voices heard.

Supporting legal aid is something that should be a part of every lawyer's DNA. For 50 years, our philanthropic partner, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, has donated millions of dollars to hundreds of programs that provide civil legal aid across the commonwealth. You can read about one MBF grant recipient this month in our Lawyers Journal profile on the Irish International Immigrant Center, whose Citizenship and Legal Services Program assists underserved and low-income immigrants in Massachusetts in their efforts to become fully integrated and civically engaged in the United States. But these programs and many more like it need our help now more than ever. Funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) is at an all-time low, and without attorneys to provide assistance for indigent persons in need, access to justice will soon become a privilege of the wealthy instead of every person's right. It is our obligation to ensure that this does not happen.

And in keeping with my recent themes of protecting the independence of the judiciary, the importance of the power of the vote and the rule of law, and ensuring access to justice, I would urge one more thing. I would urge everyone to participate in the Supreme Judicial Court's Judicial Performance Evaluation program. Why? Because without our feedback, there is no meaningful way to contribute to the improvement of our judiciary - a judiciary whose excellence is a source of great pride to us all. We are lucky to have judges who have such a strong commitment to quality and improvement. But without our participation, that process can only go so far.

So if you want to continue to have excellent judges, do your part and make your voice heard. It's like voting. You may not think that it makes a difference, but it does. You may not see its impact immediately, but change takes time. Give some of your faith to the system that we rely on every day, and lend your voice to improve it by responding to the evaluation when you have the opportunity.

As lawyers, we give back in so many different ways, every single day, although people rarely hear about all the things that we do. That's why I was so thrilled when two of my colleagues were honored recently for their good work. In October, MBA President-elect Robert W. Harnais received the 2014 Leadership Award from the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (MAHA), which honored him for being a champion for Hispanic lawyers and a tireless advocate for those less fortunate in the Hispanic community. And just last month the Middlesex County Bar Association gave their 2014 Outstanding Service Award to my predecessor, MBA Past President Douglas K. Sheff, in honor of his efforts on behalf of the underrepresented and commitment to equal justice. It was great to see two of our own recognized.

So in closing, during this holiday season, I want to thank each and every one of you for everything that you do every day for your clients, often unseen and unrecognized, but no less important and selfless. You make us all proud, and you elevate our profession with your dedication.

Happy Holidays!