About the Equal Justice Coalition
The Equal Justice Coalition advocates for expanded access to civil legal aid for low-income Massachusetts residents. The Coalition includes bar associations, law firms, law schools, legal aid organizations, and social service agencies who work together to protect and increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid (budget line item 0321-1600, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation).
After Congress imposed severe cuts and restrictions on legal aid organizations in the mid-1990s, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation created the Equal Justice Coalition in 1999 to advocate for more legal aid funding at the state level. Over the years, EJC-led funding campaigns successfully protected the civil legal aid appropriation.
Unlike criminal defendants, low-income people facing civil legal problems–involving issues such as child custody, domestic violence, housing, health care, employment, government benefits and elder issues–are not eligible for court-appointed attorneys. They rely on legal aid organizations; this is often the only way their basic human needs for health, safety, and housing can be protected.
For more information, visit equaljusticecoalition.org.
Last year at Walk to the Hill
Tenants are fighting evictions in the midst of a housing crisis. Veterans are battling war-time injuries and legal issues. And a growing senior population is facing poverty and serious legal problems. Those are just some of the reasons the Commonwealth should provide more funding for civil legal aid, said Chief Justice Ralph Gants at the 21st annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid at the Massachusetts State House on January 30, 2020.
Chief Justice Gants spoke in support of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s request of $29 million in the Commonwealth’s FY21 budget—an increase of $5 million. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts.
Approximately 700 people—attorneys from nearly 40 firms and companies, law students (including 95 from the University of Massachusetts School of Law), legal aid staff, and advocates—gathered for the annual lobby day.
Kenda Cluff, a mother of four young children and a client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, described how legal aid lawyers helped her end an abusive marriage, gain sole custody of her children, and prevail in a lawsuit filed by her former in-laws seeking her share of the divorce settlement. “My children’s lives are completely changed because of the help we received from legal aid,” Cluff said.
Civil legal aid organizations have received funding increases from the legislature in recent years, and speakers noted the continued need for that support. “More money for legal aid means more qualified people who get a lawyer,” said Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of MLAC, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Legal aid makes a “long-term difference in the lives of low-income residents in the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.