There’s no doubt about it: 2014 started busy and has remained so throughout the start of the spring. In particular, our advocacy efforts have not abated. Ever since Walk to the Hill at the end of January, we have continued to meet with members of the legislature to discuss our concerns about insufficient funding for legal services in Massachusetts.
Now we take those concerns to Washington, D.C. for ABA Day. If you have not heard of this event, it is an annual “lobby day” held every year in D.C. where bar leaders from across the country converge on Capitol Hill and lobby Congress on issues of direct importance to the legal profession.
As you can imagine, federal funding for legal services is one of the highest priorities. We are advocating for Congress to fund the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest single provider of funding to civil legal aid programs across the country, at $430 million for Fiscal Year 2015. This will translate to about $5.6 million in funding for the four LSC grantees in Massachusetts.
For Massachusetts, this has a singular impact that we cannot forget. As the need for legal services continues to grow, our four LSC grantee organizations within Massachusetts are struggling to keep pace. Increased funding would allow the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley Legal Services, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and Volunteer Lawyers Project of the BBA to better assist those citizens who rely on these legal aid organizations to fight injustices such as predatory lending and wrongful foreclosure on their home. In these trying times, it is more important than ever that adequate LSC funding is available for these organizations and the vulnerable citizens they protect.
This year, we have something else to bring to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation’s attention: we are concerned about a draft of tax reform legislation currently on the table that would require professional service businesses and many law firms to pay taxes using the accrual method of accounting, rather than the typical cash accounting method. In more practical terms, this means that lawyers would have to pay taxes on funds that they had not yet collected, and as is sometimes the case, they are never able to collect. The proposal would complicate tax payments for the profession, increasing the costs of doing business and the risks of non-compliance. Furthermore, it could lead to a stifling of growing firms that are incentivized to limit their earnings to remain under the gross receipts threshold included in the bill.
We recently sent letters to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation as well as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin voicing our opposition to their proposal. A number of our representatives and senators have expressed that they look forward to discussing the issue further at our ABA Day meetings, as we look forward to representing the best interests of the profession.
As you can see, such an agenda is more than enough reason to take some time away from Massachusetts and lend a voice to the delegation of bar leaders in our nation’s capital. We have been lucky to have strong allies in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation who have historically joined us in the fight to close the justice gap in America, and we are hopeful that reiterating the importance of these issues once again on ABA Day will encourage the progress we seek. Justice should not be available to only those who can afford it.