It’s a lively time here at the BBA, and the building is abuzz with activity as Section Steering Committee meetings and brown bag and CLE programs are once again in full swing. With the new year underway, we wanted to take a moment to offer a refresher about our public policy opportunities and procedures.
Our Public Policy Procedures offer a great resource for learning about BBA policy processes and highlight our key focus areas. We evaluate opportunities to engage in public policy through the lens of our mission, which is to:
- Increase access to justice,
- Provide for the fair and efficient administration of justice, and
- Enhance the quality of the law
The procedures also highlight the myriad of ways in which policy related to these areas manifests at the BBA, including:
- Providing comments on proposed changes to court rules
- Drafting, endorsing, or providing feedback on legislation
- Filing and joining amicus briefs
One of the more common policy opportunities here at the BBA involves the solicitation of Steering Committee comments on proposed amendments to court rules. As part of this process, we send an email to the Section Co-Chairs, notifying them of an opportunity to comment, and if the proposed amendments do relate to their practice area, the Co-Chairs forward them along to the full Steering Committee for more in-depth review and potentially a discussion at their next meeting. When a Steering Committee has an invitation to comment on their agenda, I, or Mike Avitzur, the Director of Government Relations, will attend, take notes, answer any questions, and assist in the development of comments should the Steering Committee have them. Then, the comments are reviewed by BBA leadership and submitted by the BBA on behalf of the relevant Steering Committee(s).
We love facilitating the opportunity for Sections to weigh in from their particular, expert perspectives on important changes that may impact their practice area. This also provides the courts with an opportunity to hear directly from practitioners that will be affected by the proposed amendments. And the courts have a history of carefully considering the submissions and even adjusting the final versions of the rules as a result of the concerns and feedback raised in the Section comments.
For more reading on the Comment process and the impact of these submissions, be sure to check out:
Sometimes, however, the request for input will come not from the courts, but internally from the BBA. Here in the Government Relations Department, we often reach out to the Sections for their expert opinions and analysis on a range of other internal and external policy requests, including requests for the BBA to endorse legislation, requests for the BBA to file or join an amicus brief, and requests for the BBA to respond to various current event and policy developments locally and nationally. In these instances, we rely on Sections to weigh in from the perspective of their particular practice area as a way to ensure that we thoroughly understand the issue and any impacts it may have.
Public Policy Request
Beyond responding to requests for comment coming directly from the Government Relations Department, we also work with Sections, acting through their co-chairs, to prepare their own policy proposal requests by filling out and submitting this summary sheet. These proposals can seek a number of things from the BBA, including creating and drafting new legislation, supporting or opposing existing legislation (with or without further comments), providing comments on regulations, rules or standing orders, or something else entirely.
As you can see, these requests can be used to take much more nuanced positions than simply support or opposition to an existing piece of legislation. For example, just this year, the Trusts and Estates Section submitted a proposal seeking BBA endorsement of Massachusetts adoption of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act (RUFADAA). The BBA Council voted to endorse RUFADDA, even though, interestingly enough, none of the bills currently filed at the State House actually included the full RUFADAA language. Armed with BBA Council approval, BBA Trusts and Estates Section Co-Chair Joe Bierwirth, alongside members of the Standing Committee on Massachusetts Legislation Relating to Wills, Trusts, Estates, and Fiduciary Administration, testified before the Judiciary Committee on bills related to fiduciary assets, urging the committee to adopt full RUFADDA language instead of the bills currently filed.
Amicus Brief Request
While we already noted that Sections are sometimes asked to provide comments on amicus brief requests, members are also encouraged to submit their own requests if they believe the litigation at issue fits the specific criteria. According to the Amicus Brief Policy, the BBA will, “as a general rule…only file or join an amicus brief related to the practice of law or the administration of justice,” though, “possible exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The drafting or joining of a brief, however, takes a significant amount of time and resources, so we urge Sections to begin this process as early as possible. For requests that require the BBA to draft a brief, three months is typically required to obtain the appropriate approvals from BBA leadership and prepare the brief for filing. If, however, the request asks the BBA to join a brief being prepared by another party, only two months is required, with the draft brief being submitted to the BBA for review one month prior to the filing deadline.
Our Amicus Committee has a long history of submitting briefs on some of the most significant and timely matters facing the profession and the general public, including the Dookhan Drug Lab Scandal, Access to DNA Testing, and Diversity in the Legal Profession.
Read more about this important work:
This year, we are excited to work with you on the full range of policy opportunities here at the BBA. Looking ahead, you can be sure that we will continue advocating for funding for civil legal aid, the Trial Court, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, as well as our long-held criminal justice reform priorities, including opposition to the death penalty and repeal of mandatory minimums. The following months should prove especially exciting on the criminal justice reform front as our recently appointed Working Group is gearing up for release of its recommendations on improvements to current and proposed criminal justice reform policies.
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association