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November 02, 2021

From Alaska to Louisiana, evictions and housing issues top Pro Bono Week events

Inspired by American Bar Association President Reginald Turner’s theme of “Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World,” the Alaska Bar Association for the first time joined with other bar associations across the country in hosting free clinics and webinars for citizens and young lawyers in observance of the annual Pro Bono Week celebration held Oct. 24-30.

The National Celebration of Pro Bono was launched in 2009 because of the increasing need for pro bono services during harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand.

“This is our first time participating in Pro Bono Week. I was very much inspired by this year’s theme by  President Turner,’’ said Krista Scully, Alaska Bar pro bono director. “I think we’ve all been working hard the last 18 months to make sure that services to vulnerable Americans are preserved, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It seems like now more than ever this kind of work is even more important.”

The Alaska Bar held four virtual events from its office in Anchorage during the week, including Eviction Proceedings Basics for Lawyers and programs on working with vulnerable populations, protection orders, and working with asylum and special status claims. Attorneys also participated in the national virtual book club with Brittany K. Barnett, author of “A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom.” The programs were attended by nearly 100 active Alaska Bar members in cooperation with four legal services providers. More than half of the attendees participated in two or more sessions.

Attorney Dan Coons, with Alaska Legal Services, presented the virtual clinic on evictions. “Evictions are a big issue for us up here but we’re not necessarily seeing a higher number of evictions than previously seen,” Coons said. But Coons and Scully said the bar is “bracing” for fallout from the termination of the federal government’s national moratorium on evictions that was put into place in September 2020 to prevent renters in communities experiencing a high level of COVID-19 transmission from being evicted for nonpayment of rent.

“We’re very much anticipating the impact of the end of the moratorium and we’re working as a justice organization to prepare volunteers to be able to assist people in need in a very meaningful way,” Scully said.

Housing and evictions pro bono programs were held in states all across the country.  In Louisiana, the state bar association hosted a Lawyers in Libraries Workshop: Housing & Evictions. The virtual statewide event was presented by Hannah Adams, New Orleans attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. The program covered law that applies to evictions, federal restrictions on evictions, emergency rental assistance and other federal programs.

Adams said the workshop came at a good time to get the information out to lawyers and citizens about resources available to those in need.

“Evictions in the state are kind of exploding,” Scully said. “I had a colleague in court the other day in Jefferson Parish who had 200 court cases and here in Orleans Parish we’re seeing about 80 cases a day.”

In Florida, the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) has participated in Pro Bono Week every year since its inception and motivated by that, three years ago launched a weekly in-person pro bono clinic held every Wednesday to help residents with housing issues. For Pro Bono Week, JALA hosted on Oct. 27 the “Eviction Defense Self Help Project.” The virtual clinic covered a number of topics including how to assist tenants of private landlords to complete answers to eviction summons.

Missy Davenport, pro bono director for JALA, said her office assists about 15 to 20 residents monthly through its weekly clinics, which are staffed by rotating lawyers from four area law firms. But she said more volunteer lawyers are needed.

“While the need for assistance is great and can probably never be completely met, I feel that our clinic makes a significant impact in the lives of the clients that our pro bono attorneys assist,” Davenport said. “We’re definitely seeing quite a few calls for people getting summons for evictions. I am concerned that the worst is unfortunately not over. With the end of eviction moratorium and the difficulty of accessing rental assistance in some states, I am worried that many people will be facing eviction in the coming months.”