Welcome to "The Judges' Tool Kit on Pro bono Legal Assistance."
In these tough economic times, as you are asked to continue to do more with less, I thank you for the difficult work you do in administering justice in your circuit.
Unfortunately, the number of people who no longer can afford to pay for the legal services they desperately need is ever-increasing. I know you are well aware of this problem as you frequently observe people with legitimate causes of actions who unsuccessfully attempt to represent themselves when they need an attorney’s expertise. Perhaps they are trying to force a former spouse to pay for their children’s uncovered medical expenses, or they are faced with being homeless as they are evicted from their home without adequate notice.
In a recent survey in Missouri, 77 percent of low-income households (190,000) faced at least one legal problem each year. The average number of legal issues per household was 6.28. As we know, Legal Services and other related agencies are able to serve only 25 percent of those in need. Based on this report, more than 63,000 households each year experience at least one legal problem needing an attorney, and more than 47,000 (75 percent) do not receive an attorney’s help – and this number does not include those who do not meet Legal Services' eligibility criteria. The simple fact is there is a great need to address the problem of access to justice for many needy households.
What can you do to help? Pursuant to our Canon 4, as judicial officers, we are encouraged to contribute to the improvement of the administration of justice. You can encourage your local bar to take on more pro bono work. Local needs are best served in the local community, and you and the attorneys in your area are the best sources for recognizing and filling the pro bono needs.
On behalf of my colleagues and as judicial liaison to the Committee on Access to Family Courts, I am asking for your help. The next time there is a circuit bar meeting, a law day or other event where many local bar members are gathered, make a plea for additional pro bono volunteers. I know attorneys have busy schedules and personal lives too, but a plea from you to give a little extra time – even an hour or two a week – would be of tremendous help.
The Judges’ Tool Kit on Pro Bono Legal Assistance has been designed especially for you. The tool kit provides judicial officers with resources to assist in motivating attorneys to provide pro bono services. I encourage you to visit the tool kit and view the numerous resources.
Thank you for helping me spread the word. When I was a practicing attorney, the pro bono work I did was some of the most meaningful of all my cases. Although some states have gone to mandatory pro bono hours, I am confident the Show-Me State can meet the needs on a voluntary basis. Let's all encourage more pro bono activities and set the standard for other states to follow.
Yours very truly,
Judicial Liaison to the Committee on Access to Family Courts
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