YourABA November 2011 Masthead

Expanding access to justice, ABA pro bono initiatives highlighted at LSC meeting

The organized bar and individual lawyers have many opportunities to help expand access to justice for low-income Americans in tight economic times. That was a central topic of discussion for the board of directors of the federal Legal Services Corp., which held its quarterly meeting Oct. 16-18 at the American Bar Association headquarters in Chicago.

Robert E. Stein of Washington, D.C., chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, emphasized ABA support for LSC, telling board members of its lobbying efforts for sufficient legal aid funding. The ABA is backing President Barack Obama's request for a $30 million increase in LSC's 2012 budget to $450 million, while the current House appropriations bill threatens to cut $104 million.

"We don't have an excess of funds…So we have to figure out how we can come up with new models and other approaches," said Levi.

"It is clear that the overall trend in funding [for legal aid programs] is grim," Stein said.

That's why innovative programs are so important, said Larry McDevitt of Asheville, N.C., chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. He spoke of the ABA-sponsored National Celebration of Pro Bono, which featured more than 600 pro bono events nationwide during the last week of October.  Most events involved direct service to clients or lawyer training.

Mary Meixner, assistant staff counsel of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, described the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which recruits civilian pro bono lawyers to help military families and consult with military lawyers. The ABA Home Front website, developed to support First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to help military families, provides online legal resources for servicemembers and their families, Meixner said.

Judge Lora Livingston of Austin, Texas, chair of the ABA Commission on Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, explained that the commission helps the ABA develop policy on IOLTA issues, provides national support services for state IOLTA programs and helps defend IOLTA programs in state and federal litigation as necessary, all of which provide funding for local legal services programs. In 2003, Livingston said, 28 jurisdictions had mandatory IOLTA programs. Today, she added, there are 44, and the ABA is working to increase the number.

LSC Chairman John Levi acknowledged the ABA's support for legal aid and called for even greater collaboration between the ABA, the organized bar, and LSC, which is why he invited the ABA to make its presentation to the board.

"Moments like this in the country's history challenge us all to think about what we're trying to accomplish," Levi said. "We don't have an excess of funds, we don't have an excess of pro bono hours to go around. So we have to figure out how we can come up with new models and other approaches."
 
LSC board members received a handout of the panelists' and other ABA access to justice programs, including:
  • The Commission on Immigration, which operates pro bono projects at immigration facilities in South Texas, San Diego and Seattle;
  • The Section of Taxation, which addresses many of the tax issues unique to low- and middle-income Americans and provides support to low-income taxpayer clinics;

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Expanding access to justice, ABA pro bono initiatives highlighted at LSC meeting

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