Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Many state bar associations talk about the importance of Access to Justice Initiatives. At times, there can be more conversation than action around this extremely important and increasingly serious problem. Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised and excited to learn about Massachusetts’ decision to include an Access to Justice Topic to the list of potential topics that can be tested on the MA Bar Exam.
In the fall of 2013, the Mass Access to Justice Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Bar Examination adopt a proposal, recommending the addition of an Access to Justice Topic. You can read the full proposal here. The excerpt below highlights some of the Commission’s reasoning:
“The Bar Examination’s goal of ensuring that new lawyers are minimally competent to enter the profession also requires that new lawyers are prepared to solve the civil problems most often faced by low and middle income people. Given the changing nature of the legal profession and the Justice Gap, it is essential that new lawyers in Massachusetts be prepared to handle cases and provide assistance in the key substantive areas in which the Justice Gap is most prominent.”
A recent article in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reported on the substantive areas of law that could be covered: “According to new Rule 3:01, §3, the areas of law to be tested in the field may include: landlord-tenant, including evictions, affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and fee-shifting statutes; foreclosures; divorce, including child custody, support and visitation; termination of parental rights; domestic abuse; guardianship and conservatorship; consumer matters, including debt collection, predatory lending, and unfair or deceptive practices; health care proxies; power of attorney; advance directives; due process doctrines related to fair hearings, civil commitment and civil right to counsel; representation of nonprofit organizations; and ethical rules, including the Rules of Professional Responsibility 1.2, 1.5, 1.14, 1.15, 4.3, 6.1, 6.5 and limited assistance representation.”
Follow The Leader
While I am giving a huge round of applause to Massachusetts for recognizing the importance of the “Justice Gap” and for implementing a change that will have significant impact on our students, legal education, the profession and in our communities, I would be remiss if I did not urge us to consider submitting similar proposals to our state bar associations. The Access to Justice Commission recognized that this was an important first step for their state but more importantly that this could be the beginning of a larger movement; “the proposal might not only have a positive impact in Massachusetts, but may serve as an important precedent in other states as well.” I hope this is true, and I commend Massachusetts for going far beyond just talking the talk.