Raises seek to lure child welfare lawyers to Western Mass.

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BOSTON — A shortage of attorneys who can handle children and family law cases for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in western Massachusetts prompted the House this week to sign off on temporary raises for those lawyers.

The $16.5 million spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday includes a provision allowing the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) to declare an emergency if it determines there is a "limited availability of qualified private counsel appointed or assigned to care and protection cases in any county."

Once it declares an emergency, CPCS could raise the compensation for such lawyers from $55 per hour to as much as $75 per hour.

"We are currently experiencing a care and custody attorney shortage," House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Sanchez said on the House floor Wednesday. "Currently, those private bar attorneys are just paid $55 an hour and there aren't very many attorneys that are going out to deal with the critical issues with such vulnerable children in our communities."

To qualify for the higher rate, an attorney would have to have billed at least 350 hours as a private counsel assigned or appointed to care and protection cases in the current fiscal year, or have billed at least 700 hours in the previous fiscal year. CPCS would be required to establish a minimum number of cases each attorney would have to take to receive the higher rate.

CPCS announced Thursday that it has extended its deadline for attorneys to apply for its spring training courses until Feb. 19.

The authority for CPCS to declare an emergency and offer higher compensation would expire on July 1, under the House bill.

The Senate on Thursday also approved a mid-year spending bill with many of the same provisions as the House bill.



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