While serving our country, Airman Michael Stewart* found that he also had a critical mission at home. He needed to adopt his stepchildren. Airman Stewart’s wife had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. His wife’s ex-husband—the biological father of the children—had nearly no involvement with the children, and he had previously been incarcerated because of a history of drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Airman Stewart’s military legal assistance attorney was concerned that Stewart would struggle representing himself for an adoption, so she referred Stewart to the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which connected him to an experienced and dedicated pro bono attorney.
The Military Pro Bono Project, a web-based nationwide program at www.MilitaryProBono.org, accepts case referrals directly from military legal assistance attorneys (JAGs) anywhere in the world on behalf of junior-enlisted military personnel facing civil legal issues. It then places the cases with volunteer attorneys where the legal help is needed in the United States. These cases involve a variety of legal issues, including family law matters, landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosure prevention, creditor and consumer problems, trust and estate matters, and others. Receiving legal assistance to address these issues helps provide family and financial stability to military families and their communities. With this, servicemembers can better focus on their military missions.
It was clear that it was in the children’s best interest for Airman Stewart to adopt them, especially given his wife’s declining health. Unlike the biological father, Airman Stewart had been actively involved in the children’s lives for years, both before and during his marriage with their mother. He was their father figure. In the end, the pro bono attorney successfully procured the stepparent adoption. As a result, Airman Stewart was able to focus on his duties with the Air Force without concern for unresolved legal issues concerning his children.
ABA Military Pro Bono Project Connects Servicemembers Facing Civil Legal Matters with Volunteer Attorneys
Like in the above example, civil legal issues can be uniquely challenging for junior-enlisted military members who cannot afford to hire attorneys, especially when these issues can distract them from their critical missions. They often face barriers with accessing the civil justice system, primarily because of frequent relocations that take them far away from the jurisdictions where their legal problems arise, along with military attorneys’ limited available services that typically prevent in-court representation. The ABA Military Pro Bono Project is the only national legal program that works to address this access-to-justice gap for military families.
Each year, the Project secures pro bono assistance for about 200 military members facing civil legal issues throughout the United States. Based on case-closing data provided by the Project’s volunteer attorneys, the yearly estimated value of these cases represents over $1 million in donated billable hours, which is a return of many times the actual cost of the Project’s operations.
In addition to legal representation, the Project also includes Operation Stand-By, through which hundreds of attorneys have volunteered to provide lawyer-to-lawyer consultations to military attorneys in need of substantive and jurisdiction-specific procedural information, so they can further help their clients.
Register with the ABA Military Pro Bono Project to Help
The ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division members can sign up to get involved. You can register on the Project’s website to stay updated about available pro bono case opportunities in your area. Although signing up with the Project does not obligate you to take any particular case, it is hoped that you will give consideration to the pro bono case opportunities that arise in your geographic area and substantive legal area of expertise. Alternatively, joining Operation Stand-By to provide lawyer-to-lawyer consultations to military attorneys gives you an opportunity to help our servicemembers with a very small time commitment, as participation in Operation Stand-By itself does not entail client representation or litigation.
If you are an attorney interested in giving back to the men and women of the armed forces, please visit www.MilitaryProBono.org to further explore how you can help our servicemembers receive the legal representation that they need by joining the Project roster or making a tax-deductible financial contribution.
Lend a hand to our military personnel and their families, recognizing the sacrifices they make on behalf of us all.
* This name is changed for the client’s confidentiality. Contact the Project Director, Mary Meixner, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions about participation or making a financial donation.