Pro Bono


The number-1 goal of the Arizona courts is access to justice.

The number-1 goal of the Arizona courts is access to justice.

How busy is your average day? How would you assess yourself on the helpfulness scale?

I hope you’re a typically helpful person, but when I saw what Arizona legal aid agencies do in a single day, I realized I’d have to step up to even come close.

The following terrific information came my way from Heather Murphy at the Arizona Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts. She passed on an analysis from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education (or the Bar Foundation, if you prefer) that shows the activities of those agencies on just one day. As they say, what a difference a day makes.

As they indicate below, the agencies tracked the activity related to individuals seeking assistance for crises that only legal expertise can resolve. The help they offer is remarkable. The gap that remains is huge—and growing.

Heather reminds me that access to justice is one of the five priority areas in Advancing Justice Together: Courts & Communities, the five-year strategic agenda for Arizona’s statewide network of courts. You can read the strategic agenda here.

And more about the Arizona Commission on Access to Justice is here.

And here is the Foundation:

The phones started ringing early at legal aid agencies across Arizona, and kept ringing as people also walked in and requested help via an online portal: 597 Arizona families were calling out for legal help on this one day.

In honor of Governor Doug Ducey’s proclamation declaring April “Access to Justice Month,” Arizona’s three legal aid agencies organized a “What a Difference a Day Makes” campaign to bring attention to the importance of and need for access to legal resources and assistance. For 24 hours, Community Legal Services, DNA People’s Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid tracked the activity related to individuals seeking assistance for crises that only legal expertise can resolve. On Tuesday, April 14, Arizona’s legal aid organizations made an enormous difference:

  • In the lives of 509 individuals who were offered help in their legal crisis
  • With the 69 people given support in self-help legal clinics
  • With the assistance of 25 volunteer attorneys donating their time and expertise free of charge

Each day, the legal aid agencies across Arizona are making a difference in the lives of those they serve and in the communities where they live.  These unsung heroes should be thanked. But you best send a note, because their phone lines will be busy helping the next person in need.

In 2014:

  • The three Arizona legal aid agencies helped 31,605 Arizonans: 17,663 adults and 13,942 children.
  • Legal assistance was provided to Arizonans in each of the state’s 15 counties and Arizona’s 21 Native American tribes.

Community Legal Services, DNA People’s Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid provide legal assistance on various areas of law, including: family law with an emphasis on eliminating domestic violence; consumer; employment; housing and mortgage foreclosure; individual rights; health/medical related; and public benefits (access to government benefits such as unemployment insurance and social security disability benefits).

More information about all three agencies is below. Contact them to make a difference yourself:

State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_Color“Free” may never have sounded more enticing. But that word describes an event this Saturday, April 25, when you can ask lawyers questions for free!

That’s when the State Bar participates in Law Day and when its attorney volunteers give of their time and expertise in the fourth annual Law Day Legal Aid Clinics.

The one-on-one sessions are available in the following areas:

  • Divorce & Child Support
  • Immigration
  • Wills & Trusts
  • Bankruptcy & Foreclosure

The event will be staged at two locations. For more information, click here.

And be sure to share this link with those who might benefit. All of the information on the site is available in both English and Spanish.

The event is sponsored by the State Bar, ABC-15 News, Univision Arizona, and St. Matthew Catholic Parish in Phoenix.

12 News logoI regularly report on the activities of Lawyers on Call, a State Bar public service program hosted at the ofices of 12 News, the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. At the events, volunteer lawyers answer consumer questions on various topics. On Tuesday, March 31, the event focused on tax laws. In a moment, I’ll share the names of the generous volunteer attorneys. But first, it’s worth noting that this version of Lawyers on Call included a new development: the use of a streaming video app, Periscope, to better address some consumer questions. To add to the functionality, this past month’s event also includes a video recap (see it at the end of this post). I am very impressed by the video’s quality, achieved via free apps. That makes me think I should try my hand at some videos myself! State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorThe Lawyers on Call news comes, as always, from my innovative colleague Alberto Rodriguez: Five attorneys volunteered their time and expertise on March 31, 2015, to offer legal advice on tax law. The attorneys were:

The lawyers answered 118 calls, 23 questions via Facbook, and a handful on Periscope, a streaming video app that had 55 participants. Sample consumer questions:

  • How do I report on gaming winnings?
  • How does the Affordable Health Care Act affect my file/return?
  • What are the penalties if I file late or file an extension?
  • How does filing bankruptcy affect my 2015 file/return?

Several callers reported scam activity—receiving phone calls from individuals claiming to be an “IRS” representative who request personal information and payments. Facebook continues to be a successful component of Lawyers on Call, as attorney Derek Kaczmarek answered 23 questions posted on the 12 News fan page. In addition, the 12 News social media team launched the use of Periscope, an interactive streaming video app where participants could ask their questions live. Four out of the five attorneys were first-time volunteers. All volunteers were extremely satisfied with the quality of the questions overall and were excited to have participated in the Lawyers on Call public service program. Here is a terrific video recap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n83m1ZbclBs&feature=youtu.be

AZ Summit Law School Phoenix Law logoSome news from the folks at Arizona Summit Law School (please feel free to pass it on to people who could benefit):

Arizona Summit Law School, a private law school located in downtown Phoenix, is hosting a one-day event to provide free legal information and limited-scope legal advice and assistance to people seeking help on matters related to family law, general business, probate and estate planning, and landlord/tenant disputes.

Susan Daicoff, director of legal clinics at Summit Law

Susan Daicoff, director of legal clinics at Summit Law

Approximately 50 Summit Law students, faculty, and alumni will be providing pro bono legal services; each student will be supervised by faculty or alumni who are practicing attorneys.  The school hopes to assist as many individuals as possible during its first Access to Justice Day.

“As we enter our tenth year, Arizona Summit Law School is excited to expand its work within our community,” said Susan Daicoff, director of legal clinics at Summit Law. “While our clinics have helped many clients over the years, from family law to our work at the Human Services Campus, this free day of legal assistance allows more of us to come together as a law school, to serve more people in our community who may not be able to afford legal advice.”

When: Friday, March 13, 2015, 10 am – 2 pm

Where: Arizona Summit Law School, 1 North Central Ave. in downtown Phoenix

Check-in will be held in the school’s lobby area where a pre-screening occurs. Individuals will then be guided to the appropriate station.

Spanish-speaking translators will be available.

Dean Shirley Mays Arizona Summit Law School

Dean Shirley Mays, Arizona Summit Law School

Individuals seeking assistance with complex issues requiring more than a short consultation will be referred to appropriate lawyers and organizations, including legal services agencies (community organizations who offer free or reduced-cost legal assistance), local attorneys, and Summit Law alumni.

“One of the pillars of our mission here at Summit Law is to serve the underserved,” said Arizona Summit Law Dean Shirley Mays. “For us, that means more than our efforts to diversify the legal profession by creating more opportunities for women and people of color to obtain a high quality legal education. That also means expanding our efforts to provide high quality legal information and advice to those in the community who might not otherwise have the financial circumstances to meet with a legal professional.”

For questions related to parking, directions or how the event will be structured, email Probono@azsummitlaw.edu. Note: No legal advice will be provided through this email address, and no information or legal matters will be reviewed in advance.

Ariz. Chief Justice Scott Bales

Ariz. Chief Justice Scott Bales

Here is some news from Community Legal Services, Phoenix:

On February 6, 2015, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales collaborated with members of the team at Community Legal Services (CLS) to discuss ideas to assist low-income Arizonans’ access to justice. Community Legal Services is a non-profit, civil legal aid program serving low-income persons in Maricopa, Mohave, La Paz, Yavapai and Yuma counties. Of primary consideration were the barriers to equal access to justice, including those litigants face prior to and during court.

This past year, Justice Scott Bales announced the formation of the Access to Justice Commission, headed by Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence Winthrop. Justice Bales said that there have been significant successes in Arizona’s goal of increased access. This new commission is recognizing current challenges, and it will help to focus and achieve tailored plans for success.

The plight of accessing equal access to justice is an everyday occurrence at Community Legal Services, whose client community have legal problems in several areas of law, including family law, housing, consumer, employment, health and economic stability.

Community Legal Services logoJustice Bales discussed the goals of the Commission with CLS attorneys. Commission members are studying and will make recommendations on innovative ways to promote access to justice for individuals who cannot afford legal counsel and will evaluate best practices within Arizona and other states, identifying possible changes in court rules or practices designed to reduce barriers to access, identify and encourage the adoption of best practices among legal service providers, and consider potential long-term funding options.

This opportunity for Justice Bales to meet with CLS attorney staff was facilitated by Pamela Bridge, CLS Director of Litigation and Advocacy, who stated:

“Community Legal Services is extremely grateful for Chief Justice Bales’ dedication to improving access to justice in Arizona. We are excited to continue to collaborate with Chief Justice Bales and advocates throughout the state in order to work together to find meaningful, practical solutions to barriers to access to justice.”

We may already be into February, but it’s never too late for a resolution—especially when it involves access to justice.

Here I share my editor’s column from the January 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine. You can read the entire (terrific!) issue here.

Kevin Ruegg (left) and Lillian Johnson were honored at a November 2014 Morris Institute for Justice event.

Kevin Ruegg (left) and Lillian Johnson were honored at a November 2014 Morris Institute for Justice event.

 

Are you a big advocate of New Year’s Resolutions?

Me either. But a recent event has me rethinking my position.

In late November, a parade of respected lawyers and judges gathered to laud some folks who have offered tremendous service to the legal profession, and to those who rely on it. Through their incredible contributions, the two individuals also have served the cause of increasing access to justice—even through the toughest of times.

Kevin Ruegg, of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education, and Lillian Johnson, of Community Legal Services, were the people recognized that night at the University Club in Phoenix. And the kind and accurate words offered in their praise highlight our good fortune in Arizona. But they also highlight the unmet need (and our shared 2015 resolution; more on that soon).

The assembled speakers were luminaries themselves, and they called themselves privileged to be asked to praise the two women.

Judge Joe Kreamer said that they care deeply about those who require legal services—and just as deeply about those sitting in front of them or working in their offices.

Judge Kreamer told listeners how Lillian is committed to the collaborative aspects of access to justice, and attorney Marc Kalish added, “Anyone who has ever served on the CLS board ends his or her service with one emotion: love.”

I think it can safely be said that is a rare characteristic indeed of board service.

Of Kevin Ruegg, Todd Lang said, “She’s a healer for our community and for her staff. She has made a difference in so many ways.”

It is accurate, I believe, to apply an element of Todd’s praise to Kevin, Lillian and Ellen Katz, Executive Director of the William E. Morris Institute for Justice: They are “among the special heroes for justice.” (Todd brought smiles when he described the passionate but mild-mannered Katz as “relentless and remorseless.”)

That night, we also heard remarks from Chief Justice Scott Bales, Judge Larry Winthrop, and Judge Roxanne Song Ong (who said she headed up the “Kevin Ruegg Fan Club”).

So what do we take away from the fact that two of the most humble but hardest-working people in Arizona were honored?

For that—our Resolution—I turn to Todd Lang.

He reminded everyone that those who gathered that night had already given much. The room was filled with folks committed to legal aid, and access to justice, and legal education. Badgering those people to do more is probably not the solution.

Perhaps you fall within one of those esteemed groups. If so, thank you. But if not, digging deep and giving what you can to a legal aid organization can make a tremendous difference. And for both groups, you may still have a Resolution to offer: As Todd said, “Get your friend to give.” That’s right, commit to becoming an unabashed advocate for access to justice issues. Decide today that you will become a royal pain to colleagues and friends in 2015, the one they can count on to beat that lonely drum.

You never know; you may start a band.

 

AZ Bar access to justice immigration event 12-22-14

The State Bar of Arizona continues to play a significant role in educating consumers about immigration law. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Previously, I mentioned a few events the Bar scheduled in December to help the public understand the ins and outs of the recent presidential Executive Order on immigration. Today, I offer a follow-up to the event held on December 22. Just three days before Christmas, more than a dozen lawyers offered their time and expertise to a packed-to-the-rafters crowd. It was scheduled in a way to accommodate consumers who have jobs and other daytime obligations, so it’s even more impressive that the attorneys attended until 10:00 p.m. Well done and congratulations.

The forum’s format opened with a 45-minute presentation on the topic by attorney Ezequiel Hernandez, followed by the opportunity to speak with individual lawyers.

Univision_Arizona logoKeep in mind that the December 22 event followed on the heels of a phone bank organized by the Bar the day after the President’s Executive Order (a phone bank held on a Friday night and that included some dedicated volunteer attorneys).

I can’t help but feel that the Bar is probably a long way ahead of other organizations in regard to educating folks on this breaking topic.

Here’s the update:

Thirteen volunteer attorneys came together on Monday, December 22, to offer free legal advice at an informational session and legal assistance clinic hosted by the State Bar of Arizona and its partner Univision Arizona at St. Agnes Church in Phoenix. This access to justice program, held from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., was organized to inform consumers, dispel myths, and combat consumer fraud related to immigration law and deferred action.

Approximately 550 consumers attended the access to justice event, and 286 families participated in one-on-one consultations with volunteer attorneys.

The 13 volunteer attorneys were:

  • Marysol Angulo, Hernandez Global
  • Emilia Banuelos, Banuelos Law Office
  • Seth Draper, Salvatierra Law Group
  • State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorJudy Flanagan, Judy C. Flanagan, PC
  • Lisette Flores, Friendly House
  • Jaime Garcia, Garcia Law Group
  • Marni Guerrero, Guerrero Jefferies Law Group
  • Ezequiel Hernandez, Hernandez Global
  • Claudia Lopez, Law Office of Claudia P. Lopez PLLC
  • Jose L. Penalosa, Penalosa & Associates
  • Cynthia J. Perez,  Hammond Law Group
  • Juan Rocha, Rocha Law Office
  • Ray Ybarra Maldonado, Law Office of Ray A. Ybarra Maldonado

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