Crime, Legal Related

Greater Boston Legal Services, Inc.

  • Boston, MA

Mission Statement

GBLS provides free civil (non-criminal) legal assistance to low-income people in Boston and 31 surrounding cities and towns. This legal advocacy helps secure for clients some of the most basic necessities of life. Founded in 1900, GBLS is the oldest and largest legal services program in New England.

Main Programs

  1. Greater Boston Legal Services
Service Areas



Greater Boston Metropolitan area

ruling year


Principal Officer since 2011


Ms Jacquelynne J. Bowman



free, civil , non-criminal, legal assistance, low-income, families, poor, individuals

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Also Known As







Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Legal Services (I80)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (L01)

Victims' Services (P62)

IRS Filing Requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Programs + Results

How does this organization make a difference?


Self-reported by organization

GBLS' principal accomplishments this past year included handling more than 12,000 matters for over 10,000 clients in the areas of housing, wages and workers' benefits, consumer rights, immigration, family law, and public benefits. In addition, GBLS' successful impact benefited thousands of addition clients. A few examples include: Work with a broad coalition to secure earned sick time and parenting leave in Massachusetts;Passage of a law that provides thousands of domestic workers with the same basis rights and protections as other workers; and Major court ruling more thoughtfully defined the sealing of CORI records to enable people to regain employment. Three priorities for the coming year are: Increasing GBLS' presence in low-income neighborhoods by expanding collaborative efforts with community based organizations/groups to ensure easier access to GBLS' assistance for low-income residents and responsiveness to emerging important issues.Significantly expanding financial support from donors outside of the legal community; and Securing fellowships for young attorneys of diverse backgrounds who have potential to become the future experts in the various substantive areas of poverty law for which GBLS provides assistance.


Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Program 1

Greater Boston Legal Services

In 2015, GBLS handled over 12,000 legal matters for more than 10,000 low-income individual and community-group clients with legal problems in the areas of housing, homelessness, government benefits, family law (mostly for victims of domestic violence), employment related issues of low-wage workers, access to job training and health care benefits, as well as immigration matters. Each case benefits 2.5 people on average when clients and their affected family members are counted. GBLS also conducts special outreach to elders, particularly those who are socially isolated such as nursing home residents. GBLS' Asian Outreach Project continued extensive outreach efforts to assist the low-income Asian communities. GBLS also has extensive collaborative relationships with more than 75 community and/or client based organizations, often providing legal counsel and assistance to help build their capacity and advance the agendas of their low-income constituents. In addition to assisting clients with their individual legal problem, GBLS, on behalf of its clients, engages in impact advocacy to bring about systemic change that alleviates the conditions of poverty or moves individuals and families out of poverty and promotes individual autonomy.


Crime & Legal, General/Other

Population(s) Served

Poor/Economically Disadvantaged, Indigent, General

Other Named Groups

Females, all ages or age unspecified



Charting Impact

Self-reported by organization

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

  1. What is the organization aiming to accomplish?
    Greater Boston Legal Services' primary aim is to help families and individuals who cannot afford legal help secure basic necessities of life to help them stabilize their lives so that they can begin to move out of poverty. GBLS also assists client groups in advocating for social change and in creating law and legislative reform, to benefit people with lower incomes across the metro Boston area. GBLS evaluates the results it achieves immediately upon completing the case. GBLS has a success rate of over 80% in cases where it provides full representation, meaning that GBLS' client received a completely favorable outcome and the client's goals were achieved.
  2. What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?
    Greater Boston Legal Services uses legal advocacy to advance its goal. When no one else can resolve the problem, legal advocacy is often the only recourse a poor family or individuals has to secure what has inappropriately or illegally been denied. Many of the programs upon which the poor rely to help stabilize their lives and begin to move out of poverty are governed by very complex rules, regulations and eligibility criteria. Legal expertise if often needed to inform individuals of their rights and protections or to appeal what has been inappropriately been denied.
  3. What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?
    GBLS handles a large volume of cases which has two benefits. It allows its advocates to develop extensive expertise in the areas of poverty law in which they practice which helps ensure efficient successful representation of clients. In addition, the high volume of case work allows GBLS to identify recurring issues/problems. GBLS will then engage in system advocacy to correct these problems. In addition, GBLS works closely with over 75 organizations and community-based groups. This work helps GBLS identify emerging legal issues of poor people for which legal advocacy is needed and helps GBLS build effective advocacy coalitions. Depending upon the issues, GBLS will then undertake the most appropriate means to bring about the needed change. This ranges for litigating in court, to administrative advocacy, to drafting bills and lobbying for changes to existing legislation. Successful impact advocacy results in a positive change that benefits large numbers of the poor who faced the same problem. It also frees staff to shift their focus of assistance to other areas of need.
  4. How will they know if they are making progress?
    GBLS uses both quantitative and qualitative metrics to evaluate its works. For individual case work, GBLS evaluates both the number of clients assisted and the results obtained for the individual case as the basic measure. GBLS attorneys and its Director of Litigation also evaluate on a regular basis, the effectiveness of the legal strategy and legal arguments used. GBLS measures its impact work by if the desired goal was fully achieved and if the approach used could be replicated in other impact efforts. If only partial success was achieved or not at all, then an evaluation is undertaken as to why and if additional efforts to bring about the required change would be feasible, efficient and cost effective and, if so, what changes would need to be taken in the advocacy approach.
  5. What have and haven't they accomplished so far?
    In the areas of individual representation, GBLS continues toward its long-term goal of providing legal assistance to the largest number of poor people as possible. A recent example is despite having had to reduce the size of its staff a couple of years ago due to a precipitous drop in the income of GBLS' primary funder resulting in a lower grant to GBLS, GBLS was able to sustain its level of assistance by leverage increased pro bono assistance. As a result GBLS was able to continue to sustain the number of people assisted at approximately 13,000 a year. GBLS' employs impact litigation as an efficient and effective means to benefit large numbers of poor people who face the same problem as GBLS' clients. For example in 2013 GBLS settled a major class action suit in Federal Court against the Mass. Department of Transitional assistance to remove significant procedural and administrative barriers that where causing people with disabilities to have their benefits inappropriately denied or terminated. In another case, GBLS secured more than $850,000 in owed wages for almost 200 workers of an Asian supermarket chain that had not been paid the minimum wage or overtime. GBLS has learned in its legislative advocacy that the outcome of efforts can be totally unpredictable. Despite wide-spread popular support other reasons may impede progress. For example, for a period of time GBLS worked with a coalition to advance state legislation that would require paid sick days for workers. After it became evident this past year that this effort would not be successful in the legislature, it was decided to let this become a ballot initiative. To ensure that GBLS is able to identify as early as possible issues that unexpectedly emerge for large number of poor people for which legal advocacy is needed, GBLS is investigating new delivery models which are more community based.
Service Areas



Greater Boston Metropolitan area

Funding Needs

GBLS' Affordable Tenancy Preservation Project provides assistance to low-income and disabled tenants to avoid homelessness by defending against inappropriate eviction from affordable housing. Cost approximately $1,000 per case. GBLS' Family Destitution Prevention Initiative provides legal assistance for poor families to secure subsistence TAFDC income benefits and/or Food Stamps which have been denied. Cost: approx $750 per case. GBLS' Unaccompanied Minors Project provides legal assistance to immigrant children, fleeing persecution and/or gang violence in their homeland to help secure legal status in the United States to allow them to grow up and become productive members of society. Cost approximately $1,500 per child. Chelsea Public Housing Authority Tenant Empowerment Initiative. After a major investigative report, The Boston Globe revealed that the head of the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) had been illegally concealing thousands of dollars in annual salary and diverting funds from CHA unit maintenance and improvements. GBLS was called upon to represent the CHA tenants to gain a voice in management and improvements in the upkeep and operations of the CHA developments where they lived. Legal work over the next year will cost approximately $20,000.


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Fiscal year: Jan 01-Dec 31
Yes, financials were audited by an independent accountant.


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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

Greater Boston Legal Services, Inc.



Free: Gain immediate access to the following:
  • Address, phone, website and contact information
  • Forms 990 for 2015, 2015 and 2014
  • Board Chair and Board Members
  • Access to the GuideStar Community
Need the ability to download nonprofit data and more advanced search options? Consider a Premium or Pro Search subscription.

Principal Officer

Ms Jacquelynne J. Bowman


Jacqui Bowman, a graduate of Antioch Law School in Washington, DC, has dedicated most of her legal career to providing civil assistance to our nation's poor. She became a staff attorney at West Tennessee Legal Services after law school, representing clients with education and family law matters. In 1984, she joined GBLS, serving as Family Law Unit Managing Attorney from 1987 to 1991. After a stint at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute doing policy work about family and juvenile issues, she returned to GBLS in 1997 as an Associate Director. In that position she was primarily responsible for overseeing the organization's professional development and evaluation systems and worked with law unit managers on strategic plans for the units' advocacy work. Because of her leadership skills, in 2000 Ms. Bowman was offered the Deputy Director position. She has been a key player on the senior management team, overseeing program operations and assisting in setting and defining the strategic direction of the organization. As Executive Director, Ms. Bowman continues to do policy work on domestic violence and child welfare issues and still represents some clients. She serves on numerous local and national task forces and commissions, including the Supreme Judicial Court's Access to Justice Commission.

STATEMENT FROM THE Principal Officer

"Legal advocacy is often the only recourse poor people have when no other agency can resolve the client's issue. Without GBLS' help, it often means a family facing eviction becomes homeless, a victim of domestic violence cannot escape abuse or an elder is denied the critical medical care to which they are entitled. The need for GBLS' assistance is starkly demonstrated by the fact that despite assisting more than 12,000 clients a year, this is only a fraction of the people who seek GBLS' help. GBLS estimates that 60% of those who contact the agency with legitimate civil problems are declined assistance due to GBLS' limited staffing resource. GBLS maximizes the impact of its work by engaging in significant systemic advocacy that brings about positive change that benefits large numbers of poor people who face the same problem. "



Ms. Melissa Bayer Tearney

Choate, Hall & Steward

Term: June 2011 - May 2017


GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section, which enables organizations and donors to transparently share information about essential board leadership practices. Self-reported by organization



Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?



Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?



Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?



Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?



Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?