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, and create a path to economic stability and mobility for low-income individuals, families and communities.

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 almost 50 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 statewide poverty law and policy centers in the nation.

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.