October 19, 2009

Lawyers Work To Fill ‘Justice Gap’ By Providing Free Civil Legal Services To Half A Million Alabamians

Montgomery, Ala., October 19, 2009 – The right to counsel in civil cases is necessary to make equal justice under law a reality. But last year, for more than half a million poor persons in Alabama, the only reality was a pressing legal problem that went unresolved.

State Bar President Thomas J. Methvin of Montgomery (Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C.) said, "Providing access to justice for those who cannot afford it levels the playing field. When we improve access to the state's courts we are actually helping Alabama families help themselves."

The situation is particularly acute now as the recession has caused many financial problems to morph into legal problems and increasing numbers of the poor and disadvantaged are turning to legal aid programs because they have nowhere else to go.

Methvin said that the types of unresolved civil legal problems include: women who are seeking protection from abuse, mothers trying to obtain child support or custody of their children, families who are facing unlawful eviction or foreclosure that could leave them homeless, and individuals who have lost their job and need unemployment benefits.

During the week of October 25-31, 2009, lawyers from throughout Alabama will join with their counterparts in a national observance and celebration of Pro Bono (providing free legal services to the poor and underserved). Lawyers in each of the state's 42 judicial circuits will participate in events like: conducting free legal clinics offering advice and counsel in areas such as elder and family law; discussing with community and civic groups the critical need for the Legislature to provide a continuous stream of funding for legal services, and recruiting additional lawyers to volunteer to provide pro bono service. For a listing of all statewide events, go to: http://www.alabar.org/ProBonoWeek/event_list.cfm.

Currently, Alabama ranks 51st in the U.S. and its territories in the amount of funding provided for civil legal aid. On average, the state spends $10 annually for every low-income citizen and this rank places us behind every state and Puerto Rico.

"We are grateful to our elected representatives for including in the state budget funds for legal aid but it's still a shameful situation. Given the tough economic times we are facing, we have to do more," Methvin said. He has dedicated his term in office to improving access to justice.

According a nationwide survey conducted by the American Bar Association earlier this year, 73 per cent of lawyers reported that they had provided free legal work to people of limited means.
The 16,000-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.

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Alabama State Bar President Tom Methvin recently addressed 178 first year law students at Cumberland School of Law and was honored by the law school for his contributions to improving access to justice in Alabama and specifically, the need for increased pro bono. Methvin has been a strong advocate for increasing state funding for legal services and has pledged to work with the state legislature. He discussed the professional responsibility that all lawyers have to provide pro bono service concomitant with the privilege of practicing law. Law school Dean John Carroll presented Methvin with a framed certificate as part of its 2009 Pro Bono Salute.

 
Alabama State Bar