The Massachusetts Bar Association's Access to Justice Awards
will be given to six attorneys and one law firm, recognizing their
exemplary legal skills and service to the community this month at
the MBA's 2015 Annual Dinner at the Westin Boston Waterfront.
- Adriana Lafaille, Rising Star Award
- Elizabeth Toulan, Legal Services Award
- Ropes & Gray LLP, Pro Bono Award for Law Firms
- Brian McLaughlin, Pro Bono Publico Award
- Benjamin Evans, Defender Award
- Jonathan Miller, Prosecutor Award
- Willard P. Ogburn, Lifetime Achievement Award
Rising Star Award
American Civil Liberties Union of
As a native of Brazil, Adriana Lafaille constantly saw families
being separated by deportations. Even as a young child, she thought
there must be a more fair and humane way to handle immigration - so
she decided to do something about it. Lafaille came to the United
States when she was five, graduated from Harvard Law School and now
advocates for immigrant rights as a legal fellow for the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts.
"I went to law school because of what I saw happening in the
community around me," said Lafaille. "As lawyers we all have a set
of skills that we can employ to help make the lives of those around
us a little bit better."
Her most meaningful work has centered on the case of Gordon v.
Johnson, in which the ACLU and its partners obtained a class
action ruling allowing more than 100 detainees a year in
Massachusetts to be eligible for individual bond hearings when
placed in mandatory immigration detention. To date, more than 50
detainees, including Lafaille's client, have been released from
immigration detention under a court order.
Lafaille has also spearheaded a pro bono effort to provide legal
counsel for detainees at their bond hearings by enlisting the help
of law firms such as Greenburg Traurig LLP, Foley Hoag LLP and
"I feel very lucky that I've had the chance to work with really
great lawyers who have helped me to grow and who have always placed
a lot of emphasis on mentorship, which is the best thing you can
have as a young attorney," said Lafaille.
Prior to her fellowship at the ACLU of Massachusetts, Lafaille
clerked for Hon. Ralph D. Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court and
Hon. Mark L. Wolf in the U.S. District Court, District of
Legal Services Award
Greater Boston Legal Services
Elizabeth Toulan considers it an "incredible privilege" that she's
been able to help serve low-income, marginalized and often
exploited populations during her legal career as a senior attorney
at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS).
As part of a team effort that involved decades of work, Toulan
helped bring about an earned sick time benefit under Massachusetts
law through a ballot question, which voters passed in November
2014. The lack of any earned sick time has had a serious effect on
low-wage families and a particularly devastating impact on poor
working mothers. The new law, which is set to take effect on July
1, will provide earned sick time to 1 million workers in the
commonwealth, or more than 30 percent of the workforce who
currently have no access to such a benefit.
After the success of the ballot question, Toulan is working with
others, such as the Attorney General's Office and the Secretary of
the Commonwealth's Office, to have the new law implemented so that
it provides protections to those who are most in need of its
Specifically noting the work of GBLS Employment Law Unit Lead
Attorney Monica Halas, Toulan points out that the earned sick time
benefit was ultimately the result of many different constituencies
working together toward a common goal.
"This award is really an award that belongs to Greater Boston
Legal Services as a whole and not me as an individual," said
Toulan. "If it wasn't for members of the private bar who go up to
the State House and speak to their legislators and fight for
increased funding for legal aid we could not do this work."
In addition to 14 years at GBLS, Toulan's career also includes
work at the Department of Children and Families, private practice
and coordinating the Family Economic Initiative at GBLS.
Pro Bono Award for Law Firms
Ropes & Gray LLP
Ropes & Gray LLP has a history of being responsive to the
needs of the community, which dates back to its founding. The firm
was selected as the recipient of the Access to Justice Pro Bono
Award for Law Firms for the depth and breadth of its ongoing
commitment to pro bono projects.
In 2014, more than 1,200 Ropes & Gray LLP professionals
(partners, associates, paralegals and retired partners) spent more
than 106,000 hours assisting pro bono clients. In Massachusetts
alone, professionals from the firm logged approximately 50,000
hours of pro bono service last year.
Two of the most successful pro bono projects the firm conducts in
the commonwealth are the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for
Success Initiative, an innovative program aimed at reducing
recidivism among young men, and the Medical Legal Partnership,
which helps local families and patients with health care and legal
concerns at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center (Dot
The Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Initiative
involved approximately 20 corporate lawyers at Ropes & Gray
LLP, who spent a total of 1,500 hours on the project. These
attorneys negotiated and drafted 27 separate contracts with funding
providers, which provide counseling, life skills, education and
vocational training for more than 900 young men aged 17 to 23 in
Boston, Chelsea and Springfield. Ropes & Gray LLP and Third
Sector Capital Partners were honored by the Boston Business
Journal with the "Partners of the Year" award for their work
on the project.
"Corporate lawyers are often seen as the villains of Wall Street,
so to be able to do something like this was extremely gratifying,"
said partner Winthrop G. Minot, who oversaw the firm's involvement
in the program.
Ropes & Gray LLP has been a part of the Medical Legal
Partnership at Dot House since 2008. For more than 100 years, Dot
House has served as a health center for low-income and immigrant
populations. Many of the families and individuals being treated for
health problems have underlying legal issues stemming from poverty
and a lack of effective resources.
Professionals from Ropes & Gray LLP help train medical
personnel to screen for potential legal issues and also meet with
Dot House clients to assure they are getting the right assistance
in areas, such as housing, utilities, immigration, education,
public benefits and family law. More than 500 Ropes & Gray LLP
professionals have spent more than 49,000 hours on the project
during the last seven years. More than 250 patients and their
families have been served by the program.
The Medical Legal Partnership recently received national
recognition by being presented with the American Bar Association's
2015 Outstanding Medical-Legal Partnership Pro Bono Advocacy
Pro Bono Publico Award
Brian J. McLaughlin
Brian J. McLaughlin, Attorney at Law
Giving back through pro bono work and community service has become
second nature for sole practitioner Brian McLaughlin, the recipient
of the Access to Justice Pro Bono Publico Award. A native of Easton
and a graduate of Boston College Law School, McLaughlin handles
cases involving family law, special needs issues, unemployment and
mediation. He has been practicing in Boston since 2009.
Some of his most meaningful pro bono projects have been family law
and domestic violence cases involving clients of a battered women's
shelter, which have come to him through working with the Women's
Bar Foundation. On the urban transportation front, McLaughlin has
also strongly advocated for those with disabilities by working for
more wheelchair access in Boston's taxi cabs. He has given
countless presentations concerning disabilities and accessibility
issues and was featured in the Boston Globe in 2010 as
part of a wheelchair accessible task force sting.
McLaughlin serves on the board of Shelter Legal Services where he
has done pro bono cases for veterans in housing and civil
litigation matters. He is also a board member for Easter Seals
Massachusetts and frequently volunteers with the Volunteer Lawyer
of the Day program at Suffolk County Probate and Family Court. In
addition, McLaughlin handles pro bono family law cases for the
Community Legal Services and Counseling Center, the Volunteer
Lawyers Project and Senior Partners for Justice.
The way McLaughlin sees it, lawyers are in a unique class and have
a responsibility to give back through pro bono work and community
"When you're a lawyer, you're given the gift of education," he
said. "My clients give back to me much more than I give to
By being involved in several different types of pro bono cases,
McLaughlin has been able to gain experience in many areas of the
law - experience that he necessarily wouldn't get from specializing
in one or two practice areas.
"When you do pro bono work and meet with clients, you might be the
only lawyer they've ever met in their life so you have to know a
little bit about everything," he said.
Committee for Public Counsel Services
-- Public Defender Division
When public defender Benjamin Evans is first assigned a case, his
priority is letting the client know that someone is in their
corner. For some of the defendants Evans represents, this will be a
first for them.
Working as the Fall River supervising attorney for the Committee
for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), Evans must balance the duty of
providing a high level of service with maintaining large numbers of
clients appointed to him by the court. But each case is unique and,
for Evans, everything comes together when he sees a client's face
when a jury returns a verdict of "not guilty."
But criminal defendants aren't Evans' only "clients." The Fall
River CPCS Office runs a robust internship program that gives young
law students and those who are Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3.03
certified the opportunity to immerse themselves in criminal cases
in District Court. Like legal apprenticeships from days gone by,
Evans said he thinks practical experience while in law school is
critical to the successful practice of law, especially criminal
This may be because of the great lessons he learned as a student
intern. "As a law student in 2005 I was fortunate to intern at what
was then Stern Shapiro Weissberg & Garin LLP. I had the amazing
opportunity to help Jonathan Shapiro while he tried a four
co-defendant murder case," Evans said. "Watching those lawyers try
that case every day for six weeks was a real education."
Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau of the Attorney
This past March, Jonathan Miller became the chief of the Public
Protection and Advocacy Bureau of the Attorney General's Office - a
position that oversees six separate state divisions that work
together to enforce laws that protect the citizens of
Massachusetts, including civil rights laws, access to justice for
all residents, affordable health care and more. It's a job Jonathan
Miller is deeply committed to, having served in the Attorney
General's Office since 2008 and as the chief of the Civil Rights
Division since 2012.
"I really like helping people. I really wanted to find work that I
could feel passionate about, that I felt was making a difference,
both in terms of big issues that we grapple with as a state, as a
community, as a society, but also on an individual level," said
Miller. "And what keeps me here is that the challenges are ongoing,
they are diverse and extensive and significant, but they are great
to engage with."
Miller's career in the Attorney General's Office has been
highlighted by work on groundbreaking cases, including challenging
the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a
successful predatory lending case against Option One Mortgage Corp.
In the last year, Miller also played an active role in the defense
of the Massachusetts buffer zone law, which restricted speech
outside abortion facilities. When the Massachusetts Supreme
Judicial Court unanimously struck down the law, it was "very
disappointing to lose," but Miller and his team then turned the
loss into a win. They worked with the state Legislature and fellow
advocates to create a bill, passed by the Legislature within a
month that ensured ongoing protections for women to safely access
reproductive health care facilities.
"I get to work on stuff that affects people's lives on a daily
basis on issues that people really care and feel passionate about,
whether it is access to reproductive health care, access to jobs
and housing, or something like marriage equality," said Miller.
"These are the issues that at the end of the day I think most
people are thinking about and are concerned about. And it is an
incredible privilege to do that [work]."
Lifetime Achievement Award
Willard P. Ogburn
National Consumer Law Center
When Willard P. Ogburn began his role as executive director of the
National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) in 1987, the organization was a
government funded backup center for legal services programs. Today,
nearly 30 years later, the NCLC uses no government funding and is
one of the premier advocacy groups in the country. The organization
is now widely known as the primary source for consumer law experts
Ogburn, the recipient of the Access to Justice Lifetime
Achievement Award, has played a key role in the transformation of
the NCLC throughout the last three decades. He has represented
low-income consumers in consumer and energy issues, and has helped
shape major federal and state consumer protection laws and
Under Ogburn's leadership, the NCLC's work has centered on helping
low-income individuals and families who have been victims of
unfair, deceptive or abusive practices in financial transactions.
The organization was instrumental in passing credit card reforms
through congress including some aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall
Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. NCLC also helped create
the Truth In Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
"Our whole mission is to better the lives of low-income families
in Massachusetts and across the country," said Ogburn. "It's really
difficult for low-income consumers to have a big voice in the
policies and rules of the marketplace that affect them. Even when
they do have an ally like the NCLC, it's often David going against
Ogburn began his career as a consumer law attorney in Cleveland
before joining the Boston-based NCLC in 1974. He became deputy
director in 1979, before taking over as executive director eight
years later. Ogburn also served two years as Deputy Commissioner of
Banking in the administration of former Governor Michael S.
"The ability to work in consumer law as I have has been rewarding
because we've been able to make changes in the way the marketplace
works, the way it affects low-income families and things that are
at the root of their poverty," said Ogburn.