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After 40 years, MetroWest Legal Services still works for justice

Elizabeth Soulé, executive director of MetroWest Legal Services in Framingham.

Since its incorporation in 1976, MetroWest Legal Services in Framingham has provided free civil legal aid to tens of thousands of low-income and other disenfranchised clients seeking legal, social, and economic justice.

The organization’s 16 attorneys service nearly 2,500 clients per year in 36 communities (plus an additional nine through an elder services grant) with prioritized issues of family law, housing, homeless advocacy, government benefits, education, elder law, and immigration. Funding comes from a combination of state and federal government and private funding sources.

Executive Director Elizabeth Soulé, who joined MetroWest Legal Services as a supervising attorney in 1988, had this to say:

Q. Why is legal aid important?

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A. The court system can be overwhelming even without barriers, such as lack of education, mental illness, addiction issues, or limited English. If you weren’t trained in our legal system, would you try to defend yourself in an eviction action? How would you know the important things to tell a judge, or even what the paperwork means? A lot of people just give up. It’s about having equal access to our justice system — and it’s not fair that people who can afford to pay for justice get it and those who can’t largely don’t.

Q. Does the organization receive any assistance outside of funding?

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A. In addition to our staff, we have a pro bono panel of 175 attorneys that take clients who are eligible for services which aren’t in our priority area, but are still important: uncontested divorces, bankruptcy, or drafting a will, power of attorney, or health care proxy. Last year, private attorneys donated 1,900 hours of free legal services worth about $500,000.

Q. Is that combination sufficient?

A. Not even close, unfortunately. It’s really hard when someone comes with the right problems, lives in the right service area, and meets the right income guidelines, and we still have to say we can’t help you because we don’t have the resources.

Q. Why does your staff choose to do this type of work?

A. Nobody goes into this for the money. They’re doing it because it’s important and they’re committed to the mission. It’s tough work. It’s intense work, but the benefits literally mean the difference between life and death sometimes.

MetroWest Legal Services is located at 63 Fountain St., #304 in Framingham. For more information, call (508) 620-1830 or visit mwlegal.org.

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.