A Look Back at First 100 Days of Term
On July 18, it was my privilege to begin my term as President of your Alabama State Bar.
While serving as President-Elect, one of the projects that meant the most to me was establishing a program to help people facing home foreclosure. In partnership with Legal Services Alabama, the Access to Justice committee and the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, we established the Mortgage Foreclosure Assistance Program. It provides an 800-number (Hotline) for people to call for free legal assistance. We ran statewide public service announcements on TV to promote the program.
From March 1, 2008, through October 7, 2009, the Hotline has received more than 5,000 calls, and we have spoken with over 3,600 callers (some phoned multiple times). We opened over 3,000 mortgage cases and have completed over 2,300 of those cases. There are currently more than 900 open cases that attorneys are working on with clients. As an outgrowth of this partnership with LSA, we received another grant from the Access to Justice Commission to hire a lawyer to be housed at Legal Services, to assist our VLP with domestic violence cases.
Inspired by the success of the program, and determined to help more people in need of legal services, we decided that Access to Justice would be the focus of my year as Bar president. Recognizing the importance of access to justice for the poorest among us, the American Bar Association declared Oct. 25-31, 2009, as its first ever National Pro Bono Week.
The Alabama State Bar whole-heartedly participated in this important event, involving lawyers from every circuit in the state and all the law schools to provide pro bono services in their communities. As part of the event, we set a number of goals designed to help those in need, to promote service in the Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP) to our colleagues, to help increase funding for these services, to raise public awareness and to get more lawyers to help.
Outreach activities included VLP clinics providing free legal services as well as continuing education seminars for lawyers and law students to encourage pro bono work. Bar members also were enlisted to speak to members of the media, as well as to their local civic clubs and organizations to raise awareness in the community about the nature of pro bono work, and the dedication of our volunteer lawyers.
Many people say that a society should be judged on how it treats the least among them. As lawyers we are leaders of society and have a duty to try to help the less fortunate. Through your continued service, we will continue to be able to provide true access to justice for “the least of these” in our community.
As we move forward, there is still much work to be done statewide. We must increase existing funding for Legal Services Alabama (LSA) so it can hire more lawyers. We also need to increase awareness of the need for civil justice funding among the public, the members of the Bar, and the court system.
It’s the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.
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