Hundreds of attorneys participated in the 17th annual Walk to
the Hill for Civil Legal Aid at the State House on Jan. 28. The
Massachusetts Bar Association, the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC)
and the Boston Bar Association asked participants to urge their
legislators to support increased state funding for civil legal
The EJC called on state lawmakers to adequately fund the
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item in the
state budget. MLAC is requesting $27 million in the FY17 budget, a
$10 million increase in current state funding. Civil legal aid
programs in the state are forced to turn away more than 60 percent
of the 980,000 eligible people who seek services.
MBA President Robert W. Harnais encouraged participants to not
only ask legislators for increased funding, but to also challenge
them to visit and observe courthouses within their districts.
"The key is to get our elected officials out there. … That's
what I urge you to tell the legislators: Don't do it from your
desk. Do it from the courthouse," said Harnais. "Legal aid is a
critical need. We're talking about people's lives. A family's home.
A child's safety. We're talking about access to justice."
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants also
challenged legislators who may question the size of the proposed
$10 million increase.
"In a few minutes you will meet with legislators and members of
their staff to ask them to increase the state appropriation for
civil legal services from $17 million to $27 million," said Gants.
"Many will ask you: 'How can we afford an increase of that size
during a challenging budget season?' And you will answer: 'How can
we afford not to?'"
Other featured speakers included Attorney General Maura T.
Healey and BBA President Lisa G. Arrowood. The speaking portion of
the event concluded with remarks from a legal aid client and a
video showing a typical day in a Massachusetts Housing Court.
Walk to the Hill was co-sponsored by the EJC, MBA, BBA and many
local and specialty bar associations. Attorneys from 46 law firms
and organizations participated. In addition, the event featured
teams from several area law schools.