With funding low, many legal cases going undefended

Statewide task force finds Massachusetts legal aid groups turned away nearly 2/3 of people qualifying for civil legal aid over the last year due to a lack of funding.

News Story (Massachusetts)

Megan Woolhouse
Boston Globe
October 15, 2014
Link to story

Tags: Funding: Federal, Funding: IOLTA, Funding: State & Local

Organizations mentioned/involved: Boston Bar Association, Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS)


Massachusetts legal aid organizations turned away nearly two-thirds of people qualifying for civil legal assistance over the last year due to a lack of funding, leaving thousands of low-income residents without representation in cases from domestic violence to foreclosure, according to the findings of a statewide task force to be released Wednesday.

More than 30,000 low-income clients were denied legal services in 2013, meaning many were unable to pursue cases or were left to represent themselves in court, where they often lost their cases, according to the 37-page report.

“The overused word ‘crisis’ actually applies here,” said Harvard Law School’s dean, Martha Minow, a member of the task force. “When you have people who are literally not represented in actions where they can lose their homes or face physical violence, where they can’t get legal remedies to which they’re entitled, there’s a failure to live up to the rule of law.”

At least two dozen of 134 lawyers and staff at Greater Boston Legal Services have been laid off since 2008 and another nine will leave due to further cuts at year’s end.

The 32-member task force, which also included Fidelity Investments counsel Jonathan Chiel, EMC Corp. general counsel Paul T. Dacier, and Governor Deval Patrick’s chief legal counsel, Katherine Cook, was convened by the Boston Bar Association. It studied the state of civil legal aid in Massachusetts for 18 months.