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Welcome to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a statewide nonprofit poverty law and policy center.  Its mission is to advance economic, racial and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and community outreach.  MLRI specializes in large-scale legal initiatives and systemic reforms that address the root causes of poverty, remove barriers to opportunity, promote economic stability and create a path to self-sufficiency for low-income individuals and families.

In addition, MLRI serves as the statewide poverty law support center for the Massachusetts civil legal services delivery system, providing expertise and support to local legal aid programs and also to social service, health care and human service providers, and other community organizations that serve low income people.  

MLRI's goals and objectives are to:

  • address public and institutional policies and procedures that either contribute to, or perpetuate, the cycle of poverty; 
  • ensure that low-income and underserved populations across the state are provided the same legal protections, rights and liberties enjoyed by all members of society; 
  • provide local legal services providers and community-based advocacy organizations that serve low income people with the substantive expertise, technical assistance, support, and trainings they need to best serve their clients.

For over 45 years, MLRI’s advocacy has been responsible for groundbreaking policies that have advanced the legal, economic and social rights of low-income people.   It is considered one of the premier law reform and statewide poverty law support centers in the nation.

New! MLRI Releases Report on Systemic Child Welfare Reform in Massachusetts

On June 26, at an event at the Massachusetts State House, MLRI released a new report: If Not Now, When? A Call to Action for Systemic Child Welfare Reform in Massachusetts.

MLRI's report lays out a blueprint and a set of recommendations that outline how Massachusetts can regain its position as an innovator in promoting child welfare, and how it can reconfigure its programs and services to best serve fragile families and children.

The recommendations in this report were developed with input from an advisory committee of state and national child welfare experts--scholars, practitioners, former Massachusetts child welfare leaders, and innovative policymakers from around the nation--and draws on successful efforts and innovative practices from around the country.

The tragic disappearance and death of Jeremiah Oliver, a child whose family was involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state's child welfare system in DCF custody, has led the Commonwealth to take a hard look at how our child welfare system is, and is not, working to protect children. While this scrutiny arose from tragedy, it also provides the opportunity to make much needed improvements in the way we serve our most vulnerable families and children, and regain our leadership in child welfare.

pdf icon Download MLRI's Systemic Child Welfare Reform Report

What is Law Reform?  

The concept of "law reform" emphasizes the pursuit of aggressive, creative legal advocacy to identify, challenge and change policies that adversely impact the poor as a group. Law reform recognizes that lawyers, their clients, and community groups can be catalysts for social change.

The hallmarks of law reform are impact, efficiency, collaborative relationships, and multi-forum advocacy - i.e., a large toolbox of strategies including class action litigation, legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, and educating the public and policymakers on issues that affect low income people. The goal of law reform is systemic change: addressing widespread problems and achieving long–term results.  As the late Sargent Shriver wrote, "A reform in the law may aid thousands of the poor in the time it takes to solve a hundred individual problems."  Systemic advocacy is an efficient and effective means to address the root causes of poverty or to correct a law, policy or practice affecting a large number of low income people.

Want to learn more about MLRI's strategies for systemic reform?  Check out this piece in Dialogue, the national magazine of the American Bar Association's Division for Legal Services. The article, "Tough Advocacy for Tough Times," highlights MLRI's multi-forum advocacy, using as an example its work to preserve affordable housing units in two high-profile cases in Massachusetts. 

Law Reform in Action

Read about how MLRI & legal services advocates transformed laws for poor people in Massachusetts

For 42 years, from 1969 to his retirement in 2010, Allan Rodgers served as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.  He led and participated in a legal revolution for poor people--a revolution that was led by poor people and by their legal services advocates and allies.  In his recently-released book, "RAP-UPs of a Retired Reformer: Stories About how Legal Services Advocates Transformed the Laws for Poor People in Massachusetts," Allan provides a fascinating insight on how MLRI and its allies succeeded in making significant and long lasting changes in laws, policies and practices that affected low income people, families and communities.  Written from a legal services leader who was on the frontlines and in the trenches in the War on Poverty, the stories in this book describe the legal and policy strategies, tactics, players and campaigns that improved the lives of millions of people in the Commonwealth. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in poverty law and policy.  

Download the  PDF file or get the eBook for your Kindle, Android, or i-device.

Find out how.

 Rap-ups of a Retired Reformer epub for Android or i-devices

 Rap-ups of a Retired Reformer for Kindle

2014 Annual Fund

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Ernest "Tony" Winsor Fund for Justice Brochure

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