National Pro Bono Week Highlights Need for Free Legal Aid
With more Ohioans relying on legal aid services to find justice in the judicial system, the need for more pro bono attorneys continues to grow. National Pro Bono Week gives legal aid societies and other legal organizations an opportunity to thank these attorneys for all of their contributions and recruit more lawyers to the service of helping others.
Northeast Ohioans are celebrating this week with activities, including several pro bono-related continuing legal education classes to help train attorneys, clinics for Ohioans to get free legal advice, and a fundraiser to help legal aid services.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland uses this week to highlight pro bono opportunities nearby and to say thank you to its volunteers.
“We couldn’t do our work without our volunteer attorneys. Last year 20 percent of the people we helped in Northeast Ohio were assisted with a pro bono attorney,” Malanie Shakarian, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland director of development and communications, said.
More event information can be found on the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland website.
Legal aid programs rely heavily on interest rates charged on client monies that lawyers put into a bank account. Lower interest rates have affected the amount of money supporting legal aid. In 2007, the rates generated $22.3 million. By 2014, that number plummeted to $2.6 million.
To help offset this problem, thousands of attorneys are stepping up to the plate. According to the most recent Ohio pro bono reporting study done by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, lawyers donated about 81,000 of free legal work for Ohioans that translates into nearly $11 million worth of services.
“The greatest referral source for the pro bono work reported in 2014 was legal aid, but lawyers choosing to participate also reported taking pro bono cases from agencies, churches, domestic violence shelters, hospitals, and other nonprofits,” Jane Taylor, the foundation’s pro bono and communications director, said.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor will give a keynote speech at the Willoughby Municipal Court on Friday, Oct. 30 as part of Cleveland’s legal aid week-long celebration.
Chief Justice O’Connor established the Supreme Court of Ohio Task Force on Access to Justice that looked into who encounters barriers to the legal system, including those who can’t afford an attorney for civil claims. In April, the task force issued its findings and suggested allocating general revenue funds for civil legal aid and recommended increasing fees charged to out-of-state attorneys who handle cases in Ohio and use a portion of those fees to fund legal aid programs.
“’Justice for All’ is a fundamental democratic concept, yet without meaningful access to our justice system a low-income or vulnerable Ohioan might think that the promise no longer holds true,” Taylor said. “By creating meaningful access for those who have little or no resources, pro bono lawyers provide a legal voice to those who may be facing desperate circumstances with little or no resources of their own. Pro bono lawyers are often the difference between home and homelessness, between safety and fear.”
Other areas across Ohio are also celebrating National Pro Bono Week. New this year, the Community Legal Aid’s Call for Change on Oct. 30 will have pro bono attorneys volunteer their time to provide counsel and advice over the phone. The Community Legal Aid serves eight counties in Central Northeast Ohio. And last week, the Legal Aid of Western Ohio held several virtual clinics, where lawyers provided legal advice to clients in rural areas via video conferencing. The project was funded by a national grant.
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