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The MCLE Pro Bono Scholarship Fund

Training Advocates to
Represent the Poor

A Child at Risk Finds a New Family

Removed from his family shortly after birth, Marcus spent the first years of his life languishing as he was shuffled between foster homes and the Commonwealth initiated proceedings to terminate parental rights due to abuse and neglect. The Children and Family Law Program assigned Marcus' case to attorney Steven L. Wollman of Swampscott.

Drawing upon trainings at a number of MCLE family and child welfare law programs, attorney Wollman represented Marcus' best interest as he was placed with a pre-adoptive family, and shepherded the case to its ultimate, successful resolution at the Massachusetts Appeals Court. By the time he turned seven, Marcus' adoption was final and he was thriving in his adoptive home.

The Children and Family Law Program is just one of several programs in Massachusetts that receive scholarships each year to enable their assigned counsel to attend MCLE training programs.

The Need

In the wake of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, Americans have experienced severe financial distress and dislocation marked by record-high unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and evictions. Predictably, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Volunteers Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, and other legal aid and pro bono agencies have seen their caseloads rise exponentially. Battered spouses seeking a divorce, young children suffering abuse and neglect, tenants with disabilities struggling to avoid eviction from public housing, and refugees seeking asylum are flooding the offices of legal services. Yet, as demand for services increases, their budgets have been slashed by 55% since 2008 due to decreases in state and private funding and, in particular, reduced income from lawyers' trust accounts (IOLTA), a primary source of legal services funding. Staff attorney positions have been cut 35% in that time. As a consequence, more than half of the income-eligible persons seeking representation in Massachusetts are turned away.

Without representation, the most vulnerable in our Commonwealth-the young, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the immigrant-risk abuse, hunger, destitution, homelessness, and deportation.

Private attorneys represent the largest untapped source of legal representation for the poor. Yet many who would be willing to accept these cases do not because they lack the specific expertise related to representing low-income clients in such civil matters as divorce and child custody, foreclosure, eviction, and securing public benefits.

The Solution

To address the critical and growing need for pro bono advocates, MCLE is growing its scholarship program to ramp up its efforts to recruit and train an additional 1,000 attorneys each year to take on pro bono cases. The goal is to be able to offer scholarships (in coordination with the organizations listed below) to all private practitioners who accept pro bono cases. We are only part way there.

This solution would not only increase the supply of trained and qualified advocates for the poor, it would create a longer-term ripple effect. Every lawyer who receives training will be able to represent many clients in need year after year in the course of his or her career. Moreover, the availability of high quality training will serve to promote and increase volunteerism within the legal profession.

Volunteers with these 12 pro bono programs are eligible to receive scholarships to attend MCLE training programs:
  • Children's Law Center of Massachusetts, Inc.
  • Community Legal Aid
  • Community Legal Services and Counseling Center
  • HIV/AIDS Law Consortium of Western MA
  • Massachusetts Justice Project, Inc.
  • Merrimack Legal Services
  • MetroWest Legal Services
  • Neighborhood Legal Services
  • New Center for Legal Advocacy, Inc.
  • Senior Partners for Justice
  • Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
  • Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts

The Plan

Since 2005, MCLE has been building an endowment to fund scholarships to MCLE programs for lawyers who serve the public interest. However, since the start of the campaign, the need and the urgency to train legal aid staff attorneys and private practitioners who accept pro bono cases has continued to grow exponentially. To address this reality, in 2013 the campaign was expanded from an initial $2.5 million to $5 million that will fund 2,000 scholarships every year, in perpetuity, including an additional 1,000 scholarships to help recruit and train 1,000 more pro bono advocates each year.

Annually, MCLE awards hundreds of scholarships to legal aid and pro bono lawyers. Such assistance has added significantly to the quantity and quality of the legal resources available to the poor, while freeing up the limited resources of those organizations that provide legal services or assign pro bono cases for direct client representation. However, MCLE is still able to satisfy only about one-third of the demand for scholarships for pro bono lawyers, and each year legal aid organizations ask us for more assistance in training their staffs and volunteers. The plan for the Pro Bono Scholarship Fund promises to double the number of pro bono advocates to represent the most vulnerable members in our Commonwealth.

For more information about MCLE's scholarship program and the Pro Bono Scholarship Fund, contact Sal Ricciardone, Esq., MCLE Director of Philanthropy & Special Projects.

Give Today

Meg Connolly, Esq.

Executive Director, 1985-2009 Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association

"We have found that one of the greatest barriers to attorneys engaging in pro bono work is a reticence to take on matters outside their areas of practice and expertise. Obviously, training programs are the best response to such concerns and are essential elements of any good pro bono program. MCLE makes a great contribution by bringing its professionalism and reputation to Massachusetts pro bono efforts."

Allan G. Rodgers, Esq.

Executive Director, 1969-2010, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

"MCLE works closely with MLRI to offer a series of trainings for lawyers and non-lawyer advocates covering essential information and procedures related to assisting low-income Massachusetts residents to qualify for and receive public benefits, such as MassHealth, food stamps, Social Security and disability, emergency assistance shelter, transitional cash assistance, unemployment, and veterans' benefits."

Hon. Edward M. Ginsburg (Ret.)

Founder, Senior Partners for Justice

"Access to MCLE scholarships has been an invaluable tool for recruiting lawyers who want to continue to make a difference using their talents to serve the poor. Many of the volunteers are retired from practice, solo practitioners or, in recent years, unemployed and cannot afford CLE training. We are grateful to MCLE for its help in training them. Most importantly, in the end, it is the clients who benefit."

Robert Sable, Esq.

Executive Director, 1991-2011, Greater Boston Legal Services

"Scholarships to MCLE programs give our staff attorneys needed access to critical training and allow us to focus more of our budget on expanding client services. But the real proof of the pudding is in the eating. Our staff values these opportunities and each year we run through our allotment and request even more."

Richard S. Milstein, Esq.

Founding Director, 1969-, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.

"In less than a decade, MCLE's scholarship fund has grown steadily and the impact of the fund has grown exponentially. Thousands of lawyers are now being trained to serve the poor. By contributing to the fund annually and including it in my estate plan, I know that the tradition of training lawyers for pro bono service will live on for generations to come...It's that important to me."

Steven Ciulla, Esq.


"Thank you for awarding me a scholarship to attend the Mental Health Litigation Training Program. I now feel well prepared to represent the clients within this vulnerable population in civil commitments and other proceedings. As an attorney new to the Boston area, the scholarship assistance came at a critical time when I was attempting to build a practice from the ground up."
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