Thank you to our members who took the time out of their busy schedules to gather at the State House for yesterday’s 14th annual Walk to the Hill. BBA members were among the 650 attorneys who put their advocacy skills into action in support of civil legal aid. Walk to the Hill 2013 was a great success, but our work to ensure adequate funding of civil legal aid is only just beginning.
A real life example of how civil legal aid helps people was described by South Coastal Counties Legal Services client, Daniele Bien-Aime. Through no fault of her own, this mother of two young children lost her job, and then her health insurance and came close to being evicted from her apartment — while undergoing a bilateral mastectomy and follow-up treatment for breast cancer. A legal aid attorney helped her get her job back, continue her treatment and stay in her home.
A surprise visit from Governor Patrick provided an opportunity for us to thank him for recognizing the importance of civil legal aid. Last week, House 1 proposed $15.5 million for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).
The most important part of the morning followed the pep talks from Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, BBA President James D. Smeallie and others, when attendees headed toward the offices of their lawmakers to continue the conversation about the need for civil legal aid funding. As we described in Issue Spot before, making a personal connection and building a relationship with your own state senator and state representative is key to effective advocacy.
Ellen Kief, a member of the BBA’s Solo & Small Firm Section and a resident of Weston, met with her legislators, Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch. She shared her perspective on civil legal aid as a constituent and an attorney. In particular, Ellen emphasized her experience with immigration law and the positive impact that civil legal aid has had on her own clients.
Meeting with a key staffer is just as important. As Issue Spot has said in earlier posts, staff often makes recommendations and it’s a great way to get to know what’s important to your legislator. BBA President J.D. Smeallie sat down with an aide to his state representative, Jerald Parisella. This was an opportunity for President Smeallie to make a direct connection with the person who advises the lawmaker.
It was great to see advocacy in action as lawyers filled the State House halls. These conversations will continue throughout the budget process that will run through the end of June. We need to cultivate these relationships and circle back to our legislators between now and June in order to provide them with additional information and facts, tell stories and keep the dialogue and discussions going. We need to arm them with the reasons why civil legal aid is important and should be one of their top budget priorities.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association