In the next several issues we will carry a series of messages from Tom Methvin, who is currently serving as Alabama State Bar President. Tom has set priorities for what he wants to accomplish during his term in office.
Access to Justice – Now More Than Ever
It is estimated that about 25% of Alabama’s population, or about 1 million people, live in poverty. In the current economic climate, it is likely that these numbers may grow.
Research indicates low-income Alabama households experience more than 700,000 legal issues on average per year. Common civil problems include consumer issues like creditor harassment and bankruptcy, as well as issues involving family law, housing, health and unemployment. With no money for legal services, where will these people turn for help?
To address this problem, the Access to Justice Commission was established by order of the Alabama Supreme Court. Its goal is to serve as a coordinating entity for the legally underserved, the legal community, social service providers and the private and public sectors. The Alabama State Bar works in cooperation with the Commission to find solutions to meet the legal needs of Alabama’s poor. Together, we are looking for creative methods to fund and deliver access to justice.
It is a priority of my term as President of the Alabama State Bar to emphasize this need, and to encourage all Alabama lawyers to participate in these efforts. There is still much to do, and Alabama is still at the bottom of the list when it comes to funding access to justice. Even if we double our current funding, we’re not even close to providing true, “full access” to justice for a person living in poverty.
Our intention is not to reach the national average, or fall somewhere in the middle. Our goal is to create the best access to justice system in the country for the provision of civil legal assistance to the poor. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to accomplish this. It is our opportunity, and our responsibility, to be a part of making Alabama a leader in ensuring true access to justice for all.
Information in this article is excerpted from the “President’s Message” published in the September issue of The Alabama Lawyer. For more information about Access to Justice, you can read the complete article online at www.alabar.org.
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