MA Access to Justice Commission Update:

Greetings,

I write to share updates from the Commission, information about the Supreme Judicial Court’s Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services’ Adams Award nominations and Pro Bono Honor Roll, and information on becoming an Access to Justice Fellow.

Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission May 20, 2024, Meeting Highlights

Thank you to the Commissioners and guests who joined us at the Commission’s May 20th meeting at MassMutual in Springfield. Commissioners Hon. Serge Georges, Jr. and Marijane Benner Browne, Co-Chairs, synthesized the feedback gathered from the Commission’s year-long review of the 2017 Justice for All Strategic Action Plan (SAP), provided highlights of what has changed since 2017, and discussed an overview of priorities going forward. With a focus on Western Massachusetts, we heard from Madeline Weaver, Senior Supervising Attorney at Community Legal Aid, about the Family Preservation Project, and Hon. Dina E. Fein (ret.), Interim Director at the Center for Social Justice at Western New England School of Law, about the Center’s Legal Kiosk project. We then had the opportunity to continue the conversation over lunch.

Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission Family Law Committee Spotlight

This year the Family Law Committee partnered with Northeastern University School of Law to plan an applied exercise in accessing justice in the Probate and Family Court. The project looked at how a self-represented parent, with English as a second language, might learn how to file for paternity, child support, custody, and parenting time. Based on their experiences from the applied exercise, the students identified the areas in which they believe self-represented litigants may encounter barriers and developed suggestions regarding ways to reduce or eliminate these barriers. The students’ work culminated in a report which the Family Law Committee anticipates using as a guide for the 2024/2025 year.

Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services Seeks Nominations for Pro Bono Awards and Honor Roll

The SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services is seeking nominations for the 2024 Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards. The Adams Awards honor Massachusetts lawyers, law students, law firms, and legal organizations that have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to providing pro bono services for the benefit of individuals of limited means (June 28 deadline – more information here).

The Committee also seeks submissions by lawyers, law students, law firms and other legal organizations who qualify for the Pro Bono Honor Roll (September 30th deadline – more information here).

A ceremony honoring Adams Award recipients and Pro Bono Honor Roll participants, and a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Standing Committee, will be held on October 30 at 4p.m. in the John Adams Courthouse.

Become An Access to Justice Fellow

It can be very isolating to retire, and this program gives people a whole new way to engage. I get to sit down with other Fellows, talk about these problems, try to unravel them, and do something good about them; it’s a great thing.” – John Bowman, 2015-2016 Access to Justice Fellow, Jobs Not Jails

The Access to Justice Fellows Program offers senior attorneys and judges the opportunity to take on meaningful pro bono projects as they wind down or retire from day-to-day practice.

Fellows partner with nonprofits, legal services organizations, and the courts to work on a variety of initiatives, such as creating and expanding programs to enhance access to justice, mentoring junior attorneys, representing clients, and advocacy work.

Nearly 200 Fellows have participated in the program since 2012, and 80% of past Fellows continue to volunteer once their Fellowship year has ended. This program is a great way for senior attorneys to use their specialized skills and experience to do engaging pro bono work, remain active members of the legal community, and help people and groups in need.

Interested in becoming an Access to Justice Fellow? Lawyers Clearinghouse is currently recruiting for the 2024-25 Fellows Class! Check out the Lawyers Clearinghouse website for more information.

Thank you to everyone for a great year. I will be back in touch over the summer with Commission updates and meeting dates for 2024-2025. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out anytime.

Best,

Carolyn