The state’s highest court will continue to prioritize the well-being of lawyers around Massachusetts, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, Ralph Gants, said Wednesday in his annual State of the Judiciary address.
Gants said a committee launched a year ago to study the issue will be a permanent standing committee of the SJC, cochaired by retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford and Denise Murphy, president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
He addressed the committee’s findings in a report it released in July. Among the committee’s recommendations, Gants focused on several that can improve the working life of lawyers “in whatever setting or area of law they practice,” Gants said to a packed hall at the John Adams Courthouse.
One of the recommendations is for the SJC to establish a pilot mentoring program for newly admitted solo and small-firm practitioners. He urged members of the legal community who already have mentoring programs to reassess and strengthen them.
Another recommendation from the committee is to collect data on all registered Massachusetts attorneys. Gants said a survey will be sent out to members of the bar to allow the SJC “to have a clearer picture of who our bar is and what our attorneys do, so that we can better meet the needs of all members of the bar.”
“We do not know how many [attorneys] are in private practice or in other law practices, or the areas of law which they practice,” Gants said, “not to mention how many attorneys of color we have.’’
Other recommendations include a review of SJC ethics rules on the behavior of attorneys and regional meetings on the issue, along with ways to make it easier for lawyers to maintain a work-life balance.
Gants said the SJC will also be looking to engage in more meetings with sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys, and medical experts to better understand those in the court system who are battling substance-use disorders and other mental health issues.
“It is time,’’ he said, “to reexamine our approaches to working with criminal defendants and other litigants who are wrestling with substance use disorders.”
He also spoke of the need to create an online service to help people navigate the system.
“In an ideal world, we would have a court service center in every courthouse. But we have 99 courthouses in this Commonwealth,” Gants said. “ . . . So we need to develop a virtual court service center that is available to everyone online.”
He also took a moment to recognize the support of Governor Charlie Baker and legislators. “Not many Supreme Court chief justices in other states . . . can truly speak of the leaders of the Legislature and the executive branch as their partners in justice, but I can,” Gants said.
Jordan Frias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.