Setting Public Goals for Access Commissions: The Massachusetts Model

Kudos to the Massachusetts ATJ Commission for publicly setting itself objectives that are both concrete and ambitious — and for assigning groups and individuals to be responsible for moving them forward.  I am particularly impressed that goals for working with each of the regions are explicitly laid out for the world to see.  It is an impressive list of projects, ranging across all the main areas of access to justice.  More info on the current Commission is here.  For further information, contact the Commission’s consultant, Gerry Singsen, gerrysings(at)

Here are the objectives (somewhat reformatted for this environment):

MARCH 15, 2012

By the end of 2012, the Commission will seek, through its own actions or by supporting the actions of others, to accomplish the following objectives:

Objectives Related to Revenue for Legal Assistance for the Poor
For these five objectives the Revenue Enhancement Committee has at least general planning responsibility.  The Committee has an interest not only in finding new revenue but also in how new revenue is distributed and how it furthers achievement of Commission goals.

Development of a Statewide Fund Raising Campaign: Complete design of a statewide campaign for contributions from corporations, corporate executives and other individuals with implementation planned for 2013.  (Non-judicial Commissioners only.)
Lead: Revenue Enhancement Committee

Pro Hac Vice Rule:  Final adoption and implementation
Lead: Revenue Enhancement Committee

Access to Justice Fee Add-On: Review of the second year of revenue (through July 2013) and decision whether to undertake any steps to increase the revenue during the third year?
Lead: Revenue Enhancement Committee

Attorney’s Fees: A system in place to support increasing claims for attorney’s fees to which MLAC and LSC grantees are entitled, and to collect data with which to measure results.
Lead: Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Center for Public Representation and attorney’s fee campaign group organized under the Revenue Enhancement Committee.

Class Action Residuals:  Monitoring pending class actions and encouraging judges and counsel in class actions to direct residuals to IOLTA or to legal aid programs.
Lead: IOLTA Committee

Objectives Related to Pro Bono Services
Incubator: Interested individuals trained in how to be successful in a private practice for low income clients.
Lead:  The Women’s Bar Association

Access to Justice Fellows Program: First Group of Fellows placed and working
Lead: Commissioner Finegan

Statewide Pro Bono Website: Prototype online and being tested with July 2013 target date for full implementation.
Lead: Volunteer Lawyers Project, Web and Technology Working Group

Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Campaign: New corporate counsel offices sign on for pro bono participation and take on new cases.
Lead: Commissioner Finegan

Pro Bono Work by Corporate Counsel not licensed in Massachusetts: Rules amended to allow lawyers in corporate counsel offices to take pro bono cases even if they are not admitted in Massachusetts.
Lead: Commissioner Finegan

Pro Bono Recognition Program: Substantially increased number of  firms and individual lawyers recognized at annual ceremony.
Lead: SJC Pro Bono Committee

Objectives Related to Improving Civil Legal Aid Services
The following two objectives are being pursued through a process organized by the legal services programs to respond to the fifth and sixth recommendations contained in last fall’s Special Planning Committee report.

Systemic Advocacy: Regional plans to meet targets for systemic advocacy in place and training begun in all regions.  Best practices identified.
Lead: Advocacy Coordination Committee (leading litigators in legal services programs under aegis of the Project Directors of the MLAC and LSC grantees)

Intake, screening and hotline processes:  Analysis of data completed, best practices identified, and changes made in response in regional delivery systems, resulting in increased time devoted to extended representation by lawyers in programs.
Lead: Intake Task Force, created by Project Directors of LSC and MLAC grantees. in response to a request of Commission

Expanding the Right to Counsel in Civil Cases: Housing pilot study report published.  Plans for follow-up developed and implemented, possibly including further pilots, actions based on report recommendations, and exploration of Turner v. Rogers meaning for access to justice in Massachusetts.
Lead: Boston Bar Association Task Force on the Civil Right to Counsel and Delivery of Legal Services Working Group

Client-Led Project: A project in development that will involve the direct provision of assistance and information regarding legal issues to other clients.
Lead: Commissioner Leavenworth and Delivery of Legal Services Working Group

Social service agencies, public librarians, social workers, lay advocates: Objective to be defined
Lead: Delivery of Legal Services Working Group, Web and Technology Working Group

Law Graduates, Law Schools and Law Students: Objective to be defined
Lead: Delivery of Legal Services Working Group

Follow-up to 2011 Planning Meetings with Providers:  Special Planning Committee will meet with each of the groups that it met with in 2011 and follow up on issues on which progress may have already been made in the regions, including, but not limited to:
a.  In the Southeast, the progress of the merger and the decisions regarding intake and screening, services to clients and on issues where LSC restrictions prohibit service, and the extent of systemic advocacy;
b.  In the Central/West, the structural changes under consideration involving LACCM, WMLS and MJP, and the decisions regarding intake and screening, services to clients and on issues where LSC restrictions prohibit service, and the extent of systemic advocacy;
c.  In the Northeast, the need for increased collaboration and cooperation between NLS and MVLS, whether there has been any follow up on merger based on the Southeast model,, the analysis of the existing screening and intake structure, services to clients and on issues where LSC restrictions prohibit service, and the extent of systemic advocacy;
d.  In the East, the interrelationship of the programs, in particular whether the current working relationship among LARC, VLP and GBLS is most effective, and whether, in a time of scarce resources, the interrelationship between GBLS and MLRI has been thought through to maximize their effectiveness. With two new Executive Directors now on board for these two organizations, perhaps new thought and direction will be warranted;
e.  With MLRI, its financial health, its setting of priorities in light of its reduced resources, its relationship to, and support of, the field programs and the seven MLAC-funded statewide programs, and its continued role as a key leader for planning and advocacy across the entire statewide system.
Lead: Special Planning Committee, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

The following three objectives concern recommendations from the report of the Special Planning Committee, approved last September, for which no Lead has been identified and no specific objectives have yet been set.

Increasing Regional Impact:  SPC Report recommended regional examination of how resources are actually used and how greater impacts might be achieved, including measures.
Lead: None

More effective use of technology: SPC Report recommended improvements in program technology
Lead: None

Evaluation project developed: SPC Report recommended increased use of evaluation to learn from current efforts and improve impact of work for clients.
Lead: None

Objectives Related to Access to Justice in Administrative Agencies
Common application for benefits to state agencies: A comprehensive proposal presented to the Executive Office of Human Services, including discussions of feasibility and privacy concerns and efficiency and fraud reduction
Lead: Commissioner Marsh, Administrative Justice Working Group, Northeastern Law School Students

Language of DTA notices: New language in use in notices and other communications from Department of Transitional Assistance that more clearly explains what is happening and why.
Lead: Administrative Justice Working Group

Language Access Plans of administrative agencies monitored: Language Access Coalition (legal services advocate group) monitors and proposes improvements in implementation of agency language access plans developed under direction of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
Lead: Administrative Justice Working Group

Objectives Related to Access to Justice for Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs)
The following two objectives are not the prerogative of the Commission.  However, they are listed here because the Commission supports these efforts to improve access to justice.

Access to Justice Initiatives in the Trial Court: Support provided to the projects of the Trial Court’s Special Advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives, including:
More forms available, in multiple languages, for trial court practice
Information centers
Web access to downloadable forms
Limited assistance representation
Lead: Commissioner Fein

Training for Judges and Clerks: Commission supports training on dealing with Self-Represented Litigants based on Guidelines.
Lead: Commissioner Cohen

Code of Judicial Ethics: Explore whether to recommend that the Code be amended regarding judicial interaction with SRLs.
Lead: Commissioner Cohen

The following four objectives all concern technological innovation to improve access to justice for SRLs under the Web and Technology Working Group.

Website for Self-Represented Litigants: content covers all significant areas of poverty law and number of monthly visits continues to grow.  Many social service agency websites display MLH “button” for link to website.
Lead: Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Working Group on Web and Technology

Forms for Modification of Child Support: Interactive online interview, in English and Spanish, available this summer to guide SRLs to complete forms for modification of child support.
Lead: Massachusetts Justice Project and Working Group on Web and Technology

Compendium of Online Court Forms: All forms authorized for use in Trial Court proceedings by SRLs available for downloading from
Lead: Working Group on Web and Technology

Law Librarians: Continue support for online consultation on referral from
Lead:  Working Group on Web and Technology

Objectives Related to Planning and Communication Within the Access to Justice Community
Multi-year Planning:  Adopt a process that will lead to ongoing, careful and comprehensive planning for the access to justice effort in Massachusetts in 2013 and beyond.
Lead: Special Planning Committee

Communications and Coordination: Improve the Commission’s capability for public relations regarding legal services  and the Commission’s activities.
Lead: Special Planning Committee


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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