A Conversation with Justice Ralph Gants
Guest Blogger: Staci Rubin, PILP Class 2012-2013
The Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) class of 2012-2013 is underway. As one of fourteen PILPers, I have already deepened my understanding of how the Boston Bar Association (BBA) functions and heard directly from public interest leaders about what qualities strong leaders possess.
The explicit goal of the restructured program is for PILP participants to meet leaders in the public service landscape, contribute significantly to the pro bono / public interest work in Boston, and create a pathway to leadership within the BBA. Since our PILP class kicked off on May 10, we have met with leaders from the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Greater Boston Legal Services, Delivery of Legal Services Section, and Bankruptcy Pro Bono Committee.
On Tuesday, June 26 Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court graciously met with the PILP class to discuss his work with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. Purely as a hypothetical, Justice Gants asked us to imagine something he later explained was too outlandish for real world consideration: a world with a concierge judiciary akin to concierge medicine. Concierge litigants would pay a higher court filing fee in exchange for a judge that could devote more time to the case and likely render a decision on the matter in a shorter time frame as compared with the current court system. Those higher filing fees, according to the hypothetical, would be funneled directly to the presently underfunded judiciary. While the PILPers were not in universal agreement as to whether the detriments outweighed the merits of this hypothetical concierge judiciary, there was universal agreement about the need for additional financial resources to protect the integrity of the justice system.
At present, there are vast numbers of low income individuals and groups in need of legal advice and representation who cannot gain access to counsel. During this time of increasing requests for legal services and representation and decreasing budgets for legal service organizations, public defenders, and prosecutors, there are vast opportunities for attorneys to offer pro bono assistance. Justice Gants suggested that the types of conflicts where there is the greatest need for pro bono assistance include litigants in child custody, support, and alimony cases, eviction and related housing proceedings, bankruptcy filings, immigration proceedings and domestic violence survivors seeking restraining orders. While Justice Gants admits that actual and perceived conflicts of interest will continue to hinder attorney pro bono representation for many employed attorneys, he noted that rigorous case screening, access to fillable and multilingual court forms, limited assistance representation, and guidance documents dictating law may help to overcome some of the conflict barriers.
The PILPers have seemingly started a tradition by asking every visitor to PILP gatherings to provide their input on unmet legal needs. Our list of ideas about where public interest work could most benefit the needs of the Commonwealth’s low income and otherwise underserved residents is growing. We will continue collecting ideas from public interest leaders and begin developing one or more public interest projects in late summer. I am grateful for the PILP opportunity, motivated by the like-minded public interest spirit of my colleagues, and look forward to collectively improving access to justice and narrowing the gap of unmet legal needs in Boston.