Montgomery, Ala., September 13, 2013 – This year’s Alabama State Bar Pro Bono Week activities, held in conjunction with the nationwide observance October 20-26, will focus on what it is like to walk in the shoes of low-income Alabama citizens who face numerous civil legal problems.
These problems involve essential human needs such as, protection from abusive relationships, safe and livable housing, access to health care, family law issues including child support and custody matters, and relief from financial exploitation.
State Bar President Anthony A. Joseph of Birmingham (Maynard Cooper & Gale, PC) said, “Pro bono service puts lawyers on the frontlines of poverty, where we can identify systemic injustices that victimize the poor. This gives us the opportunity to educate legislators and the public about chronic problems that demand broader, creative solutions.”
To better serve low-income Alabamians with civil legal needs, members of the legal profession must better understand what it is like to be an Alabamian living below the poverty line. For an individual, that means an income of less than $12,000 per year, or about $23,000 or less for a family of four. Nearly 20 percent of Alabamians and 29 percent of Alabama’s children live in poverty. On Friday, Oct. 4, at Cumberland Law School, lawyers, judges and law students will step into fictional roles as part of a “poverty simulation.” Each will briefly experience the life of an adult or child losing a job or struggling to support a family on minimum wage, facing eviction from a home, suffering from an untreated illness, being removed from or forcing to drop out of school, and living in a crime-and drug-ridden neighborhood. During each of four
15-minute “weeks,” participants will juggle work or school and transportation problems, getting children to day care and finding time to budget meager funds, standing in line at a social services agency or getting a payday loan to try to keep up with overdue bills.
According to Joseph, with the growing need for free legal assistance, pro bono service plays a critical role in providing access to justice for low-income individuals and the working poor.
“We recognize that pro bono alone cannot adequately solve the growing, unmet need for access to justice, but for someone who can benefit from pro bono service, one attorney’s contribution of time and talent can make a world of difference,” Joseph said.
Also during Pro Bono Week, lawyers in each of the state’s 42 judicial circuits will take part in such activities as conducting free legal clinics offering advice and counsel in the areas of elder and family law, discussing with community and civic groups the critical need for the legislature to provide a continuous stream of funding to ensure access to justice for the poor and recruiting additional lawyers to volunteer to provide pro bono service.
Currently, more than 4,500 lawyers are enrolled in pro bono programs operated by the Montgomery County Bar Association, the Birmingham Bar Association, the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program, the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program and the state bar.
A schedule is available for other upcoming free legal advice clinics planned statewide.
For more information on these events and other services that the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program provides, call (888) 857-8571.
The 17,300-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.