On July 18th, Tom Methvin, Managing Shareholder of our firm, assumed the role of President of the Alabama State Bar. This is quite an honor for any lawyer and one that is well-deserved by Tom. He has worked hard on Bar Association projects over the years. His election also brings with it tremendous responsibilities and great opportunities for service to our state. The following are remarks from the State Bar annual conference, made by Tom when he took office:
Madam Chief Justice, Colleagues, Friends and Family: It is quite an honor to serve as your Bar President. As you know, I’ve got very big shoes to fill as I follow two great presidents, Mark White and Sam Crosby. I do not take this job lightly.
As I look back in time, I wonder what were the major issues facing our first bar president in 1879 as he dealt with all the changes during Reconstruction. I wonder what issues faced our 41st bar president in 1920 when he dealt with the new laws regarding women’s right to vote. I wonder what issues faced our 86th bar president in 1964 when he dealt with the changes of the Civil Rights Act becoming law.
And then I wondered what the major issues are facing us today in 2009, as I become your 133rd Bar President. The changes in our nation’s economy and how it has thrust so many more Alabamians into poverty has to be a consideration. How our State Bar deals with this relative to other State Bars is likewise a consideration.
After thinking about all of this and after receiving a lot of input from Bar leaders, I concluded that one of the major issues we need to focus our time and effort on is access to justice for the poor. Why is this so important? Why now?
Alabama has a large number of people living in poverty. These numbers have increased substantially because of the economy and are likely to continue to increase. Our statistics show that over 80% of their legal needs are not being met.
As of last year, we spent less in this state for access to justice than any other state in the country. Even Puerto Rico spent more than us – yes even Puerto Rico. As a result, justice for the poor suffered greatly. In my opinion, this is shameful and just plain wrong! The increase of those living in poverty and the way we fund legal services to them makes access to justice more important now than ever before.
Our nation’s promise in the Pledge of Allegiance of “and justice for all” is among our proudest traditions. Yet for many living in poverty it is a hollow promise. In fact, in many cases they are not only seeking justice they are actually fighting injustice. You know, we can debate what justice is and it can be hard to tell sometimes. However, there can be no debate about injustice. Injustice is easy to spot.
A mother is trying to support her children by working two jobs. She is running from an abusive spouse who beats her over and over. He told her he would kill her if she ran. She needs a restraining order to stop the violence. She needs to change her legal identity to hide from the abuse, but she can’t afford a lawyer. This is injustice.
The elderly couple who are living on Social Security and who rent a small apartment. He is a World War II veteran and she worked at a factory for 30 years. They always pay their rent on time but the landlord refuses to fix their leaking roof and sagging floors. The landlord kicks them out in the street because they can’t afford a lawyer to protect their rights. This is an injustice.
These are typical fact situations of people who need a lawyer in Alabama who in many cases can’t get one. They are left out of our justice system primarily because of the lack of funding. Let us remember them as we think of the plight of all those who cannot get a lawyer and must deal with injustice on a daily basis.
Thankfully, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb had the foresight to recognize this problem. In April 2007, under her leadership the Alabama Supreme Court created the Access to Justice Commission and appointed its leader Ted Hosp, who has done an excellent job. The Commission and the Alabama Law Foundation have worked together to make great progress. But we have got so much more to do. We plan major new initiatives this year to address this.
• First, we will raise substantial funds to hire more Legal Services lawyers to handle these cases. Alan Rogers has agreed to chair this effort. Thank you Alan! As you know, Legal Services is the main way that those of limited means receive free legal help in this state. Legal Services does a great job and we appreciate them.
• Second, we will approach the Alabama legislature and ask them to fund access to justice at the same level other states do. We will particularly call on our lawyer legislators to help us with this. Jim Pratt has agreed to lead this effort. Thank you Jim.
• Third, we will ask every member of the bar to contribute some amount of time or money to help Access for Justice.
• Fourth, we will upgrade our volunteer lawyer program. This can give us immediate help while we work on the slower task of raising funds for other access to justice programs. Right now, we have a 23% attorney participation rate in our Volunteer Lawyer Programs. We need more lawyers to help and we plan to actively recruit them. You are bar leaders who set the tone for how other bar members act. If you are not a member of a volunteer lawyer program, please join. Please encourage everyone in your firm to join also. Our firm has 42 lawyers and has a 100% participation rate. We would like to have as many firms as possible at 100% participation. Will you encourage all members of your firm to do this? This is very important.
We also have a pro bono celebration set this year during the week of October 25th. During this week, we will highlight our members’ pro bono activities by having an outreach in every judicial circuit in this state. We will help a lot of people and we will get a lot of positive PR. Thank you President-Elect Alyce Spruell for taking charge of this.
I want to take a moment to commend the Mobile Bar Association volunteer lawyer program. Its program is the best in the state and one of the best in the nation. It has received state and national awards for its great work. Approximately 60% of its lawyers participate in the program and it has delivered over 25,000 hours of lawyer time for free to the Mobile public. To the members of the Mobile Bar, thank you for your example.
I would also like to thank Rich Raleigh, who has agreed to chair the volunteer lawyers program in Huntsville. Rich and his committee are completely re-designing this program and have already made great progress. We expect to say this time next year that this program is on track to be one of the best around.
Lastly, I want to thank the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation and the Access to Justice Commission for their grant that allowed us to hire a pro bono lawyer to work full time to protect the rights of those facing foreclosure.
In closing, Let me say this: Let’s make Alabama a place to be proud of as it relates to access to justice. With your help, I am convinced we can do it!
We are proud of Tom and his work in the State Bar Association. As Managing Shareholder in our firm, Tom has the toughest job of any lawyer in our firm. He has to run the entire operation, pay the bills and keep lawyers and employees reasonably happy. I am confident that Tom will be an outstanding Bar president.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.