To many people, the start of the New Year signals a clean slate. The days ahead feel full of potential. This is why it is traditional to make a New Year’s Resolution or two. As you consider your resolutions, I’d like to urge you to make Access to Justice a priority.
Since deciding to emphasize this important service during my term as Bar President, I have been encouraged by the response from lawyers throughout the state. During Pro Bono Week in October, lawyers in every judicial circuit participated in activities to provide free legal services to the poor, or to raise awareness about pro bono programs available in their community. More than 3,200 hours of service were contributed during Pro Bono Week alone, totaling more than $400,000.
Building on this momentum, the Montgomery County Bar Association (MCBA) Pro Bono Committee, with the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP), has implemented a pilot program in Montgomery County to provide a monthly free legal services clinic. The clinic will operate on the first Tuesday of each month and began in November 2009. Volunteer lawyers were able to help 36 people at the first two clinics. Each life we touch will have such an impact on others, and on the community. Our work helps make Alabama a better place for all of us to live.
The VLP is an important tool to provide free legal services to poor and disadvantaged Alabamians. It refers cases to volunteer private attorneys who agree to provide free legal assistance to low-income clients. Each of the four VLPs affiliated with the Alabama State Bar – the Birmingham, Mobile and Madison County Bar Associations, and the ASB VLP – has increased its focus on VLP participation and activity.
Three thousand attorneys are currently participating in the VLP. I was particularly encouraged to learn that at Beasley Allen’s recent Legal Strategies Conference, we had almost 80 new attorneys join the VLP. That is outstanding! If you have not already joined, won’t you consider putting this at the top of your New Year’s Resolution list?
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.
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