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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 Reaches Settlement Agreement in Class Action Litigation

Fairer Rules Protect Homeless Children & Families in Motels 

On December 18, 2014, the Western Massachusetts Housing Court approved a Settlement Agreement between MLRI and the state Department of Housing and Community Development in a class action challenging unequal and unfair rules applied to homeless families with children placed in motels through the state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) system.

The lawsuit, Hayes v. Department of Housing and Community Development, was brought on behalf of the thousands of families who have resided in a motel through the EA shelter system since January 2013.

There are currently more than 1,600 families living in EA-funded motel rooms. Under the settlement, families in motels will benefit from much fairer, more reasonable rules that will improve the quality of life for these most vulnerable families and prevent many families from facing termination for de minimis violations.  See the press release for more information.

NEW!  Information Regarding the President's New Immigration Executive Orders


Immigrant parents living in the U.S. since January 1, 2010 who are parents of U.S. citizens, among others, will be eligible to apply for a Deferred Action for Parents (“DAP”) program, as well as for employment authorization documents, once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) begins accepting such applications – which must take place before May 19, 2015, according to Presidential announcements and posted U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) memos of November 20, 2014.   A second program announced by the President will expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program and permit newly eligible individuals to apply beginning February 18, 2015. An estimated 65,000 people in Massachusetts are potentially eligible for relief under these two new programs, according to the Migration Policy Institute.  

Please see the attached link for a summary of both immigration relief programs. Nonprofit legal services organizations and others throughout Massachusetts will be working together in the coming months to extend a range of legal assistance services to potentially eligible immigrants under the various new programs. Information about the new DAP program and a calendar of workshops will be posted on a regular basis on the Mass Legal Services web site beginning November 24, 2014. Immigrants should be encouraged to seek reputable sources of information and legal advice. 

 The Ties That Bind:

Strengthening, and Reducing Racial Disparities in, Kinship Foster Care in Massachusetts

On November 6, MLRI released a new report, The Ties That Bind.This report addresses how Massachusetts can reform specific policies to advance its commitment to kinship foster care and achieve a higher number of good kinship placements, especially for children of color.

Massachusetts has been an early national leader and pioneer in its commitment to placing children with their extended families when they must be removed from their parents. However, our kinship foster care placement rates are now low in relation to the rest of the country and particularly low for African American and Latino children.  While the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has some strong policies, these policies are not always followed in practice, and budget cuts have undermined some of DCF’s most promising practices in this area.  Also, new national model kinship foster care licensing standards propose a way to update our foster care licensing system to best respond to modern-day realities.  

The Ties that Bind makes the following recommendations for DCF:

  • appoint a kinship care coordinator,
  • implement a presumption in favor of kinship care,
  • review its licensing standards in light of national model standards designed to promote kinship care while keeping children safe,
  • get kin involved as soon as DCF becomes involved with a family,
  • ensure that kinship foster parents are able to access all the state supports to which they are entitled, and
  • build bridges into communities where kin live.

pdf icon Download MLRI's report on strengthening and reducing racial disparities in kinship foster care in Massachusetts.

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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