Existing Pro Bono Programs in Missouri

Existing Pro Bono Programs in Missouri

There are a variety of pro bono programs in Missouri. Some are funded by state and federal funds such as the four Legal Services Corporation programs, some are affiliated with social service agencies, some are affiliated with circuit courts, some are limited in scope such as disaster response, some are affiliated with law schools, and some are affiliated with a single church or local agency usually involving one volunteer attorney.

The Supreme Court Committee on Access to Family Courts (CAFC) and The Missouri Bar Delivery of Legal Services Committee is attempting to locate these various agencies so they can share information and resources. The Missouri Bar has developed a website where they can describe their programs and needs and opportunities for pro bono volunteering. The website is www.mobarprobono.org. Check this site for developing information about additional agencies.

Presently to our knowledge, no local bar association has a
pro bono panel or referral program. A 2008 survey of all circuit clerks by CAFC found that only five had a list of pro bono attorneys.

Presently, all of the existing agencies together are able to serve less than 30 percent of the needy. This leaves tens of thousands of poor families with legal problems who are unassisted. For more information, see The Need. Our challenge to multiply resources to meet this need is very great.

Below you will find more detailed information about existing programs.

Legal Services Programs
The four regional not-for-profit Legal Services programs across Missouri have operated organized pro bono or judicare (reduced-fee) programs since 1982. Each program sets its own case priorities, but in general, services include legal assistance in the areas of marriage, dissolutions and child custody (usually when violence is involved), orders of protection, guardianship for minors, landlord-tenant disputes, bankruptcy, foreclosure prevention, consumer credit and other consumer matters, public benefits, education and specialized projects. For their contributions, volunteer attorneys are afforded a variety of benefits, such as malpractice insurance coverage, reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, mentoring and co-counseling opportunities, case monitoring and follow-up, free CLE programs and volunteer recognition. Other benefits include meeting space and no cost or low cost professional services - court reporters, real estate appraisers, title searches, handwriting experts, etc.

Case referrals made to the
pro bono programs are first screened for eligibility and legal merit by the sponsoring legal services offices. Because these pro bono programs are part of the legal services programs and are not separate entities, their case priorities and client eligibility requirements are the same. APPLICANTS SEEKING ASSISTANCE SHOULD CALL THE LEGAL SERVICES PROGRAM IN THEIR AREA (see map). Legal Services also has a statewide website.

While these programs have made significant strides in bridging the gap between legal needs and services, a large unmet need still exists. In their ongoing efforts to meet this challenge, the programs must continually recruit volunteers. The programs have developed the insight to successfully create opportunities that match the desires and needs of its volunteers with
pro bono clients for a mutually fulfilling experience. These programs are:

• Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, headquartered in St. Louis, operates the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP). The VLP relies on its panel of outstanding volunteer attorneys in 20 counties of eastern Missouri to refer critical housing, consumer, immigration, guardianship and domestic violence matters. The VLP offers training, support and malpractice coverage for its volunteers. For more information, click here.

Contact information:
Office address: 4232 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108
phone: (314) 534-4200
facsimile: (314) 534-1425
e-mail: info@lsem.org
website: www.lsem.org

Areas of law in which legal assistance is offered: Priority areas include consumer, community and economic development, disability, education, elderly, family, health, housing, immigration, income maintenance, public benefits, limited probate matters (to avoid homelessness or impoverishment, limited tax matters (when home or employement is affected)

Income Eligibility Criteria: 125% of federal poverty levels (ex., gross annual income for a family of four = $27,563)

• Legal Aid of Western Missouri operates the Volunteer Attorney Project (VAP). Currently consisting of more than 900 enrolled volunteer attorneys, VAP provides services in a 40-county area of western Missouri. Its services include specialized programs that focus on victims of abuse, the homeless and the elderly.

Contact information:
Office address: 1125 Grand Boulevard, Suite 1900, Kansas City, MO 64134
phone: (816) 421-8020
facsimile: (816) 474-1578
e-mail: lscott@lawmo.org
website: www.lawmo.org

Areas of law in which legal assistance is offered: dissolution of marriage, guardianships of minor children, Chapter 7 bankruptcy, drafting of beneficiary deeds and consumer matters including credit card collection defense, defective auto sales contracts and other contract disputes, public and private landlord-tenant disputes, education, representing victims of predatory mortgage lending and other housing matters

Income Eligibility Criteria: 125% of federal poverty guidelines (in exceptional circumstances up to 200% of federal poverty guidelines

• Legal Services of Southern Missouri

Contact information:
Deanna Scott, Director of Litigation
Office address: 809 N. Campbell Ave., Springfield, MO 65802
phone: (417) 881-1397
facsimile: (417) 881-2159
e-mail: deanna.scott@lsosm.org
website: www.lsosm.org

Areas of law in which legal assistance is offered: consumer law, domestic/sexual violence, elder law, family law, housing, income maintenance, individual rights. public benefits, wills/guardianships

Income Eligibility Criteria: 125% federal poverty guidelines with some exceptions

• Mid-Missouri Legal Services, with offices in Columbia and Jefferson City, administers a Volunteer Lawyers Program that provides legal services in its 11-county area in central Missouri. VLP attorneys may provide extended services in contested cases and/or limited services in clinic or project settings in many civil practice areas, but primarily housing, consumer, family and elder law. MMLS offers its VLP attorneys training, support and mentoring. For more information, click here.

Other Programs

• Gateway Legal Services focuses primarily on SSI and social security disability cases. They also assist with veteran's benefits. For handling applications and appeals for benefits they receive a reduced contingent fee; however, there is no fee for handling cases terminating benefits or collecting overpayment of benefits. Paid staff handles such cases pro bono but Gateway would welcome the assistance of volunteer attorneys to help with such cases.

Contact information:
office address: 200 N. Broadway, Suite 950, St. Louis, MO 63102
phone: (314) 534-0404
facsimile: (314) 652-8308
e-mail: mferry@gatewaylegal.org
website: www.gatewaylegal.org

Geographic service area: statewide

Areas of law in which assistance is offered: social security, SSI and veteran's benefits

Income Eligibility Criteria: The program is primarily for persons whose household income is at or below 200% of federal poverty but exceptions can be made.

• The Samaritan Center Legal Care: Legal Care began in 2003. The program is affiliated with the Samaritan Center, a multi-service charitable agency providing food, clothing, utility assistance, free medicine assistance, dental clinic, medical clinic and other services. All attorneys and secretaries are volunteers.

Contact information:
Office address: 1310 E. McCarty St., Jefferson City, MO 65101
phone: (573) 634-7776
facsimile: (573) 761-4856
e-mail: LegalCare@MidMoSamaritan.org
website for attorneys: www.midmosamaritan.org/legalcare

Geographic service area: Primarily counties surrounding Jefferson City including Cole, Moniteau, Miller, Osage, Maries and Callaway

Areas of law in which assistance is offered: All civil matters. No criminal or traffic matters.

Income Eligibility Criteria: The program primarily is for persons whose household income is at or below 150% of federal poverty level.

Expenses: It is Legal Care's goal that attorneys and mediators who provide free or reduced-fee services to persons referred by the program will not have out-of-pocket expenses. Legal Care will pay expenses from the donated funds, which are pre-approved. Donations to the Legal Care fund are tax deductible.

Support resources: The facilities of the Samaritan Center are available to volunteer attorneys accepting clients from Legal Care for conferences during times that staff is present, i.e. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Contact Jackie Mathews at (573) 634-7776 for scheduling.

Mentors: Experienced volunteer attorneys are available to mentor less experienced attorneys on legal matters.

Mediation: Legal Care encourages mediation where appropriate. Volunteer lawyers and non-lawyer mediators are available to work with attorneys and clients.

Forms library: Forms are available especially for limited scope representation matters.

Malpractice coverage: Legal Care is approved to participate in the free malpractice coverage provided by the state of Missouri. We will assist you in registering for the coverage.

Language translation: Spanish translators are available through El Puente.

Free MCLE: In appreciation for the contributions of volunteer attorneys and to develop skills for pro bono representation, Legal Care provides free MCLE programs. Legal Care is approved by Mo Bar as a MCLE sponsor.

Social services support: Legal Care is a program of the Samaritan Center. The Center provides numerous services to needy persons including: food, clothing, furniture, a dental and medical clinic, assistance with obtaining free medications from drug companies, state and federal tax assistance, utility assistance, rent assistance and other monetary assistance. Frequently when assisting a pro bono client, the client has need for basic services. Samaritan Center can help with these allowing the attorney to take a holistic view of the client's needs.

Tax assistance: Through volunteers, Legal Care provides assistance to low-income persons on federal and Missouri income returns to help them obtain the credits (e.g. Earned Income Tax credit and Missouri Property/Renter Tax Credit) and refunds they are entitled to.

• The Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry (CLAM) is affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Director is Marie Kenyon.

Contact information:
Office address: 321 N. Spring, St. Louis, MO 63108
phone: (314) 977-3993
e-mail: kenyonm@slu.edu
website: http://www.ccstl.org/services/family-and-community/149-catholic-legal-assistance-ministry.html

Geographic service area: counties in the Archdiocese of St. Louis

Areas of law in which assistance is offered: CLAM helps victims of domestic violence and domestic law matters, paternity, orders of protection, guardianship and abuse. CLAM also offers services for immigrant populations

Income Eligibility Criteria: The program primarily is for persons whose household income is at or below 150% of federal poverty level.

• The Missouri Trial Lawyers Association (MATA) has developed a program in collaboration with the Red Cross to provide volunteer attorneys to assist disaster victims. The program is limited to officially declared disasters.

Contact information:
Office address: 243 East High St., Suite 300, Jefferson City, MO 65101
phone: (573) 635-5215
facsimile: (573) 634-6282
e-mail: mata@socket.net
website: http://www.matanet.org/index.cfm?ph=DisasterRelief

Also, a variety of pro bono programs throughout the state focus on a particular area of the law or a specific group of people. The Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City for example provides pro bono legal and accounting assistance to qualifying artists and arts organizations from all creative disciplines.

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