From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
As the new year has come and I look back at 2012, I continue to be impressed with the level of work put forth by the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel. For example, we put on two all–day live CLE programs in Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs, for a combined audience of nearly 200 registered attendees, as well as holding an online CLE program in the summer for nearly 50 registered attendees. We supported resolutions before the ABA House of Delegates, engaged in policy advocacy on a number of fronts (as I described in my last column), and we collaborated with an array of entities, both within and outside of the ABA, on projects to advance access to legal services for military families. The LAMP Committee is, indeed, a very active committee!
Of particular note are the achievements of our Military Pro Bono Project in 2012. The Project is our ongoing initiative to connect active–duty, junior–enlisted servicemembers and their families with pro bono counsel to assist in the resolution of civil legal problems outside the scope of services that may be provided by a military legal assistance attorney. In 2012 the Project successfully placed over 200 cases with pro bono attorneys who donated about 4,000 billable hours of pro bono service, valued by the volunteer attorneys at just over $1 million for the year. In addition, the Project, which is funded entirely without general revenue money, successfully raised enough private funds in 2012 to sustain nearly two more years of operation at current levels. Further, the Project continued in 2012 to place the Association in a positive light within the military community, Congress, and the general public. For example, the Atlantic Magazine ran an online article illustrating the outstanding work of Project volunteers on behalf of servicemembers, and the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the markup of its National Defense Authorization bill commended the ABA for its work to meet the legal needs of servicemembers through the Project.
Since we launched the Project in collaboration with the ABA Section of Litigation in 2008, we have delivered pro bono services to over 700 military members and their families in nearly every state of the nation, and these services represent an aggregate value of donated billable hours of over $3 million. We felt, therefore, that we were long overdue in developing a formal program to recognize the tireless work of our Project volunteer attorneys, law firms, and donors. And last fall the ABA Board of Governors approved our proposal to give an annual "ABA Military Pro Bono Project Outstanding Services Award" to lawyers and law firms that accept and provide pro bono legal services for three or more pro bono case referrals originating with the Project in a calendar year, and/or complete at least one pro bono case referral requiring a total of 50 hours or more of donated time. The LAMP Committee was similarly authorized to annually give an "ABA Military Pro Bono Project Star Ranking Support Certificate" to financial donors to the Project. Both volunteers and donor receive a certificate from the LAMP Committee commending the contributions to the Project as well as acknowledgement on a special page on our Military Pro Bono Project Website.
We are now sending out certificates and posting awardees on our website for services rendered in 2012. Of our pro bono volunteers, we are happy to say that three law firms and four individual attorneys all took on three or more pro bono matters in the past year, and twenty–two attorneys closed out pro bono cases requiring 50 or more hours. Examples abound of the exceptional work done by our volunteers on behalf of servicemembers—I thought I might just highlight a few here:
- The mother of a deceased soldier needed help to probate her son's estate. The soldier died with a will, but the mother did not know how to proceed. The Project located a dedicated volunteer attorney who spent almost two years helping the deceased soldier's family. The volunteer attorney opened, administered, and closed the probate estate for the deceased soldier, and represented the mother as personal representative of the estate and trustee of a new testamentary trust. The volunteer also handled an insurance claim and helped establish a trust for the soldier's minor daughter and helped with the administration of the trust with the beneficiary's legal guardian. In this tragic situation, this volunteer attorney went above–and–beyond to help this family.
- A Marine wanted to adopt his step–child, as the child's biological father had no involvement in the child's life. The Marine discussed this matter with a military legal assistance attorney, who referred the case to the Project. The Project located a volunteer attorney who spent a great deal of time helping the Marine with the adoption process and successfully completed the step–child adoption for the Marine.
- A default judgment involving a landlord/tenant dispute was ordered against a Marine while he was deployed in Afghanistan. The Marine had many problems with his landlord. Thus, before deployment, the Marine took his landlord to small claims court and won a judgment in his favor. However, after the Marine deployed, the landlord appealed and got the judgment reversed in the absence of the Marine, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). After the Marine returned to the United States, he visited a military legal assistance attorney to discuss this situation. The military attorney referred the Marine's case to the Project, which placed this case with a volunteer attorney. The volunteer attorney worked with the small claims court and was able to successfully set aside the default judgment against the Marine.
- An Air Force servicemember sought help with a matter involving a title to a vehicle. After purchasing a vehicle from a car dealership, neither the servicemember nor the finance company received the title to the vehicle. It was discovered that, after purchasing the vehicle, the car dealership went out of business, and an individual had the vehicle on consignment at the car dealership, but the individual never received the money from the car dealership after the servicemember's purchase. This individual held title to the vehicle. A military legal assistance attorney referred this matter to the Project, which located a volunteer attorney who was able to successfully resolve this case through a settlement.
- The mother of an Army servicemember's son did not allow the soldier to visit his son before deploying to Afghanistan. The soldier talked to a military legal assistance attorney about this issue, and that he wanted to establish a visitation order that would allow him to spend time with his son before and after his deployment. The military attorney referred the soldier's case to the Project, which located an attorney who volunteered to help. The volunteer attorney successfully established a visitation order for the soldier. As a result, in the days before his deployment, the soldier was able to spend time with his son, and the soldier looks forward to seeing his son after he returns home from Afghanistan.
There are many, many more case examples like these arising from the work of our Project volunteers. And while you're at it, visit our Awards page and see all of the 2012 award recipients. We again thank all of our outstanding volunteers and financial contributors that make it possible to meet the civil legal needs of our servicemembers and their families.