In August Governor Deval Patrick declared October 2010 to be Pro Bono Month, a proclamation that the BBA wholeheartedly endorsed. The BBA has a long history of promoting pro bono participation in the tradition of the organization’s founder, John Adams. Now more than ever, pro bono representation is critical to ensuring equal access to justice in the Commonwealth. Today there is an overwhelming demand for legal representation as a record number of individuals are forced to appear in court pro se because they cannot afford a lawyer and the demand for legal services far outstrips supply. We continue to hear from our members about how this affects not just access to justice but the administration of justice. Here are some of the things we have learned in the last year:
- Pro se litigants require more assistance from court staff to understand and navigate the judicial process.
- On one day in the Housing Court last fall, 203 cases were on the docket: in those cases, 189 tenants appeared pro se, as did 43 landlords.
- The courts are trying to keep pace with the demand with diminished resources and fewer and fewer staff.
- Delayed hearings and rulings can have direct negative impacts on individuals seeking relief from the judiciary on issues ranging from eviction to domestic abuse.
Our 2009-10 Public Interest Leaders recognized this growing problem and decided to focus their efforts on finding a creative way to address it. They sought to meet the needs of both indigent litigants and lawyers who wish to help, but may not have the time to devote to long-term projects. The group surveyed created a resource guide that focused solely on opportunities that would require 10 hours or less to complete.
On September 22, 2010, they held Take a Bite: Snack-Size Pro Bono Opportunities That Fit Your Practice here at the BBA. Over 15 organizations with more than 20 opportunities for pro bono work that require 10 or fewer hours participated. The event served as a great prelude to Pro Bono Month. October at the BBA has been buzzing with training programs and events that celebrate and promote the importance of pro bono representation. This has served as a great jumping off point for the BBA to continue its pro bono projects throughout the year.
For ways that you can get involved, check out the BBA’s calendar and our Public Service Program page. There is still time left to attend one of our events and to make a lasting impact on the lives of those in need.
Boston Bar Association
Government Relations Department