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December 15, 2014 Dialogue

LAMP: From the Chair...

By David G. Ehrhart, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel

One of the priorities of the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) is to cultivate relationships with state and local bar association entities dedicated to supporting servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The LAMP Committee views its connection to the state and local bars to be one that is mutually beneficial: Given the LAMP Committee's long history and strong relationship with the Department of Defense, we have a great deal of expertise and experience to share, as well as the benefit of a national perspective. Conversely, the state and local bars have vital insights into the "on the ground" legal issues and challenges facing military personnel and veterans in their states and communities. By working together, we can fully achieve our respective missions to ensure access to justice for military–connected families. In this column, I thought I would highlight some of our efforts in this area.

One of the ways we have worked closely with state and local bars in recent years has been in developing and promoting CLE and "Roundtable" programs. Starting in 2010, LAMP has conducted Roundtable events around the country in cooperation with state and local bar associations to bring together stakeholders in the legal community to discuss their issues, programming, and to share information about the work being done by the ABA and LAMP. Our first Roundtable was in 2010 with the Boston Bar Association, and in 2011 we held a Roundtable with the Washington State Bar Association combined with a program on meeting the specific legal needs of military families and youth. Since then, we've also had Roundtable meetings with members of the Arizona State Bar and Nebraska State Bars. Additionally, in the past two years we have formally cosponsored CLE programs with the Virginia State Bar and the North Carolina State Bar, through which we closely collaborated in development of the substantive programming to best meet the needs of local practitioners working with military–connected clients.

Beyond meetings of leadership and educational presentations, our LAMP Committee directly interfaces with the state and local bars through our programmatic initiatives, most notably our Military Pro Bono Project. Many state and local bar associations with their own military–oriented initiatives work directly with the Military Pro Bono Project to help ensure that military families in their communities receive the legal help that they need. We do not duplicate our efforts; rather, we work together to supplement and support each other's work. For example, the State Bar of Georgia Military Legal Assistance Program helps connect military members and veterans to bar members who are willing to provide free or reduced–fee assistance. Working directly with staff, the State Bar of Georgia helps locate local bar members who are interested in helping with specific pro bono referrals received from our Project. Other state bar associations with military programs that consistently collaborate with the Project include the Oklahoma Bar Association, the South Carolina Bar, and others.

We also work with many state and county bar associations to help publicize the legal needs of military families and how attorneys can volunteer to help. Many local bars share this information with their members by publishing articles about LAMP and the Military Pro Bono Project in their journals and newsletters and by including information on their websites. For example, in a recent winter edition of the Alaska Bar Association's quarterly newspaper provided to all Alaska attorneys, Alaska Bar Rag, the bar included an article about the Military Pro Bono Project and how lawyers can get involved. In addition, the bar created a special webpage on its pro bono website to post the Project's open Alaska cases. Similar publicity recently has been provided by other bar associations, including the Jacksonville Bar Association in Florida, Nebraska State Bar Association, Volusia County Bar Association in Florida, Wichita Bar Association in Kansas, and others.

In addition, many smaller, local bar associations are providing significant help to our servicemembers by using their email list services to keep their members updated about local pro bono case opportunities, including those through the Military Pro Bono Project. In particular, in states with high military populations—such as California, Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia—local county and city bar associations are playing an essential role by sharing the Military Pro Bono Project's pro bono case opportunities to their members.

Finally, it is also important to note that the LAMP roster currently includes liaisons assigned by the state bars of Florida, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State. We welcome the involvement of these liaisons in our committee's business meetings as often as they are able to attend, and their counsel is extremely helpful in shaping our committee's priorities.

I'll close this column by mentioning that building relationships with state and local bars is an ongoing priority for us, and to that end I have recently sent out letters to the executive directors of all of the state and local bar associations nationwide in an effort to raise awareness about the support, resources, and programs available through the ABA LAMP Committee and our interest in collaboration. I look forward to continuing this effort, and I welcome input from readers on how we can better connect with our colleagues in the state and local bars.