Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc. provides free civil legal services to low income and elder residents of Essex and Northern Middlesex Counties, Massachusetts. We were established in 1967 as part of the War on Poverty. Two years ago we had 14 attorneys and 4 paralegals on our staff, now we are down to 6 attorneys.
NLS has over 15 funding sources. Our two primary ones are from the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) which receives a direct state appropriation and from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA).
Under Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules, an attorney holding funds on behalf of a client must place the funds either in an account that pays interest to the client or in a pooled IOLTA account. An IOLTA account is used only if the funds are relatively modest, or will be held by the lawyer for a short time, so that the interest earned would be less than the cost of setting up and maintaining a separate account. Though the individual amounts of interest are small, the interest from the combined IOLTA accounts is significant.
The majority of money in IOLTA accounts are from real estate transactions. The decrease in home sales coupled with historically low interest rates have dramatically decreased the amount of money available to legal services programs. In 2008 IOLTA generated over $25 million statewide. In 2010 this amount was approximately $9 million!
NLS' budget has been slashed by over 60%. Three years ago we had a staff of 32, now we have a staff of 18. At the same time demand for our services has increased 40%. We are devastated by having to lay off dedicated advocates and support staff. But we are hurt at least as much by having to cut back on the number of people we can help.
NLS staff provide a range of services and representation in such traditional areas as housing, public benefits, and elder law. We have had to reduce representation in unemployment compensation, immigration and foreclosure prevention. We have been forced to stop assistance in consumer, utility terminations, and community economic development.
We desperately need your help. Please consider DONATING to NLS. NLS has been at the forefront of the community lawyering movement, listening to community members and groups, and working with them to improve conditions within their community. We want to be able to continue. We are turning away 2 eligible clients for every 1 we can accept. We need your support - our clients need your help.