IF YOU’RE an indigent criminal defendant, the state provides you with a lawyer for free. But there is no such guarantee for needy Massachusetts residents involved in civil cases, such as home foreclosures or the threat of losing medical coverage. Especially in tough economic times, the most vulnerable citizens are left to fend for themselves in court.
Legal aid organizations rely on financial support from the state and federal government, as well as from donations from private lawyers. That money has been drying up, and with it, access to legal assistance. Another main funding source - interest earned on client funds held by lawyers - is also down because interest rates have declined to near zero. As a result, organizations such as Greater Boston Legal Services have been forced to turn away thousands of clients because they don’t have the funds or people to represent them.