It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And while the holiday season is nice, we are, of course, referring to Walk to the Hill, the annual lobby day for civil legal aid. Scheduled for Thursday, January 28, it may seem like a long way off, but it’s really right around the corner. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a primer on the event…
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Equal Justice Coalition, the event is attended by over 500 attorneys. There will be speeches from BBA President Lisa Arrowood, the president of the MBA, legal aid clients, and at least one state leader (in the very recent past this has included SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Attorney General Maura Healey). There will also be legislators … lots of them.
The event begins with registration and speeches in the Great Hall. Get ready to be inspired! It is impossible not to be moved when hearing about the impact of legal aid on the lives of so many people in need. After a boxed lunch, it’s on to legislative meetings. Don’t know your elected representatives? That’s perfectly fine – look them up here and make the introduction. Tell them how much legal aid means to you and why it is important that they support this year’s ask: a funding increase of $10 million, for a total of $27 million in FY17. This fact sheet provides some strong arguments you can use to make your case.
If you are ready for a deeper dive, check out Investing in Justice, the 2014 report of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts that laid the foundation for our campaign by conclusively demonstrating that:
- 64% of individuals who qualify for legal aid (for a family of four, that means an income of less than $30,000 annually) and make it through the wait (roughly 50% of callers give up after being on hold for hours) are nevertheless turned away, solely due to a lack of adequate funding. Tens of thousands are turned away every year, which is especially concerning in areas of basic need such as housing and domestic violence.
- Court procedures are bogged down and justice is frequently delayed or denied due to the glut of pro se litigants.
- For every dollar spent on legal aid in the areas of domestic violence, federal benefits, and housing, the state and its residents see returns of $2 to $5, mostly on back-end savings such as shelter, police, and medical costs.
If you’re a social media buff, we’ve got you covered too. Fill out an “I Walk…” placard and tweet a picture using the #IWalkforJustice or #WalktotheHill hashtags. The EJC and others will be actively retweeting the best submissions.
Not going to be around at the end of the month, or live too far away to easily travel to the State House? Not a problem! There are plenty of other ways to get involved. The “Talk to the Hill” movement encourages you to call your elected officials on January 28, or another time, to deliver the same message. Email is another convenient way to reach out to your State Senator and Representative. Finally, sign up for action alerts here to get notified of key moments in the budget process and to get access to easy “plug-and-send” emails to officials. We will be promoting similar alerts on this blog and through your BBA Week email as well, so stay tuned!
Thursday, January 28, 2016, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm in the State House’s Great Hall.
There are no bad reasons to Walk to the Hill. We encourage you to do some soul searching to find your own. For many it is the recognition that lawyers play a special role in society and thus have a duty to serve others. For some it is because they recognize the great work legal aid in Massachusetts does for those in need, helping low-income individuals, the courts, and society at large. For others it is all about increasing access to justice or following up on their own pro bono efforts. Check out this Twitter page where dozens, including a number of #MAPOLI stars, shared why they walk. Heck, it can even be to get a free boxed lunch with 500 of your closest colleagues – the important thing is that you attend and spread the word to your elected representatives.
Many firms get in on the act, with firm captains leading the charge to round up as many partners and associates as they can to attend. Earlier this week we attended the EJC Captains’ Breakfast, where captains from large and small firms, law schools, and in-house counsel all learned about the budget process, the impact of civil legal aid, and strategies to increase involvement at their firms.
SJC Justice Geraldine Hines Addressing EJC Captains
Thinking of trying to put together a group to attend the Walk? Here are some great ideas that work:
- Offer pro bono credit
- Ask for a commitment – calendar invites are really helpful
- Get competitive: How does your department stack up against another? How about your firm vs. others?
- Get personal – don’t just email friends and colleagues, actually talk to them in person.
- Help your recruits prepare (…by referring them to helpful blog posts, wink, wink) and coordinate the details for them. Oh yeah, don’t forget there is such a thing as free lunch! AND FREE BREAKFAST TOO! That’s right, stop by the BBA for some networking, coffee, and breakfast bites before you walk across the street to the State House.
We hope we’ve given you everything you need to know to have a great Walk to the Hill. We hope you will join us for all the events, and don’t forget to fill out your exit report so we can tally up all the legislative visits and better plan our strategies for the rest of the campaign! We look forward to keeping you up to date on all the latest developments in the FY17 budget campaign.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association