Pro Bono


Abogados a Su Lado 08-17-15

Today, I share a news story by colleague Alberto Rodriguez.

The State Bar of Arizona and Univision Arizona hosted the Abogados a Su Lado public service program on Monday, August 17, 2015. Volunteer lawyers answered calls relating to viewer’s family law issues. The following is a recap of the program.

There were six lawyer volunteers, two of whom were first-time volunteers:

  • W. James Fisher Lopez, William James Fisher Law Offices
  • Mark Hawkins, Hawkins & Hawkins
  • Carlos E. Noel, Arizona Attorney General’s Office
  • Christina Ortecho, Law Office of Christina Ortecho
  • Daniel A. Rodriguez, Diaz Rodriguez & Associates
  • Alejandra Valdez, Arizona Attorney General’s Office

The volunteer attorneys answered an impressive 84 calls during the two-hour phone bank.

Sample consumer questions:

  • How do we begin the divorce process? Do we need an attorney?
  • My husband left five years ago, can I file for a divorce without him?
  • Can I sue for back child support if my children are over 18?
  • How do I enforce a child support order? What if the parent doesn’t comply?
  • How do I get grandparent rights?

And I didn’t tell Alberto I was going to do this, but here is a great visual tweet by Gerardo Higginson that shows my co-worker and a lot of the call-in activity:

An April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event at the Arizona Supreme Court gathered advocates and legal experts to addr4ess access to justice issues.

An April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event at the Arizona Supreme Court gathered advocates and legal experts to addr4ess access to justice issues.

Our offices will be closed for the Fourth of July holiday on Friday, July 3. But before I head for the hills, I’ll share one more post for this week, this one written by my prolific colleague Alberto Rodriguez.

His piece is in regard to a noteworthy event held earlier this spring. Arizona Forward was a gathering of people and organizations committed to access to justice. Held at the Arizona Supreme Court on April 3, 2015, speakers included American Bar Association President William C. Hubbard.

Now, the event organizers have released their report, which Alberto summarizes for us here (more event photos are at the end of this post; click to enlarge and to view them in a slideshow):

Speakers at the April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event included (L to R) State Bar CEO John Phelps; ABA President William Hubbard; Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales; State Bar Governor Jeff Willis; and State Bar President Richard Platt.

Speakers at the April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event included (L to R) State Bar CEO John Phelps; ABA President William Hubbard; Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales; State Bar Governor Jeff Willis; and State Bar President Richard Platt.

Legal professionals and community leaders are one step closer to solving the shortage of accessible legal services in Arizona. Arizona Forward, a day-long conference held in April that focused on finding new and better ways to deliver legal services, has released its findings, which included the following.

To move Arizona forward in the future delivery of legal services to its citizens, the significant changes in demographics, economies and technology must be considered by leaders from all sectors of the community-at-large.

  • (We) need to consider further augmentation of the legal services profession, beyond licensed document preparers, to include greater use of non-lawyers and paraprofessionals.
  • (We) need to communicate more effectively to those who need legal services about access to the legal system and recognize when legal advice is needed.
  • (We) must harness technology in every imaginable way to reach and assist those in need of legal services.

The underlying theme in the report was the need for increased communication. Advancements in technology will help to tackle this communication barrier. As technology continues to advance, it will play a key role in ensuring that it provides the gateway in linking those who need legal services to those who can provide it. Mobile and virtual technology are two elements being considered.

As Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales has said, “Having meaningful access to legal services is vital to fulfilling the promise of justice for all. The goal of Arizona Forward is to find new, innovative solutions that advance justice for all Arizonans.” That first step was taken, and the first goal met by the State Bar of Arizona, the Arizona Supreme Court, the American Bar Association and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, who co-sponsored the event, along with community leaders from across the state, was to identify the issues and offer attainable solutions.

For more information on Arizona Forward and to read the report, click here or contact Carrie Sherman at 602-340-7201. To learn more about the nationwide initiative led by the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, click here.

Wills for Heroes logoLast Thursday, June 4, Wills for Heroes marked its 10th year “providing free estate plans for those who put their lives on the line protecting the people of Arizona.” The Bar reports that those affiliated with the program have assisted more than 8,000 first responders since it began in 2001. “In the ten years that followed, Arizona attorneys have volunteered more than 12,500 hours of time at 175 clinics across 14 counties.”

You can read the Bar’s whole story here.

Here, you can read a 2006 Arizona Attorney story that explained how the Bar recognized Jeff Jacobson, the original Arizona organizing attorney.

“Jacobson also helped to create the Wills for Heroes Foundation in 2007, which now serves first responders across 29 states. Based in Tucson, the Foundation provides both support, services, financial assistance and supplies to the various programs that help eligible emergency first responders and their families in the United States.”

Here are a few statistics describing the program’s reach. From 2005 into 2015, attorneys offered 12,650 hours of their time to the initiative. That resulted in 8,622 wills.

In that time, Arizona lawyers attended and assisted at 175 clinics to create wills for first responders. Ninety-one events were held in Maricopa County, 40 in Pima County, and the remainder were held in 12 counties.

Wills for Heroes event at Arizona Cardinals Stadium

Wills for Heroes event at Arizona Cardinals Stadium

To learn more about Wills for Heroes, visit the organization’s website.

State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorOn Tuesday, May 19, the State Bar of Arizona and 12 News hosted the Lawyers on Call public service program. There, four attorneys volunteered ther time and expertise to answer viewers’ questions on landlord/tenant issues.

The following update comes from my colleague Alberto Rodriguez:

Four attorneys volunteered their time:

  • Henry Alzate, Alzate DuComb Law Firm
  • Jack Escobar, Escobar Law Firm
  • Charles Oldham, Dickinson Wright
  • Bret Rasner, Community Legal Services

The attorneys answered an impressive 84 calls during the two-hour phone bank.

12 News logoSample consumer questions:

  • How do I recover my deposits (security, utilities, pet, etc.)?
  • What are the landlord’s responsibilities for property maintenance/repairs?
  • What can I do if my landlord is not repairing items around the rental property?
  • How do I report and remove bed bugs?
  • How do I process an eviction?

Two of the four 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.

Click here for a brief news story (video) leading up to the phone bank.

Would pro bono legal help lead to the patenting of more useful items? (Here, an 1879 plow)

Would pro bono legal help lead to the patenting of more useful items? (Here, an 1879 plow)

I routinely hear about—and share—stories of the need for increased legal services, and how pro bono service fills some of that gap.

The needs are great and often thought of as being in areas such as bankruptcy, landlord–tenant, or employment law.

But what about a more esoteric area of law? Could there be a pro bono need for practice experts like that—such as in patent law?

That was the kind of thinking that led to the creation—the invention, you might say—of a patent law pro bono program. A friend, Diane D’Angelo, shared a recent story with me. It’s from the Denver Post, and you can read the whole thing here.

As the story indicates, the initiative, launched in 2012, involves a bar association and its attorneys in that practice area. The Pro Bono Patent Program is “led by Mi Casa Resource Center and Colorado Bar Association Intellectual Property Section to pair low-income inventors with patent professionals. Since its launch, 67 inventors have begun the application process and two were able to get their ideas patented.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes the initiative well; it arose from a law signed in 2011:

Patents and the ideas behind them are an engine of the economy (like this Scuderi split-cycle engine).

Patents and the ideas behind them are an engine of the economy (like this Scuderi split-cycle engine).

“The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) understands that one of the main barriers to getting a patent is cost-not necessarily the USPTO fees associated with patents, but the cost of hiring a skilled patent attorney to file and prosecute an application.”

“On September 16, 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act (AIA) into law. Section 32 of the AIA specifies that, ‘The Director shall work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.’ ‘Pro bono’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘done for the public good without compensation.’ With this directive, the USPTO effectively switched into full gear to implement its AIA Pro Bono Program, which it had already been developing in anticipation of the legislation. The president’s ink was still drying when the first client signed with the pilot program in Minnesota. Since that date, the program has expanded to connect clients with volunteer pro bono attorneys across the country in multiple regional programs.”

Read the full history here.

Just as important—and why I share the story now—on May 12, “Mi Casa, the Colorado Bar Association and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the extension of the program—or ProBoPat—to the states of New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.”

According to the story, that increases the program’s range to 49 states. And the U.S. PTO shows Arizona as being one of those. Unfortunately, its link to the Grand Canyon State takes you to a California program. So I’m curious: Who in Arizona is participating in or coordinating this program here? (I’m being a little inventive myself and crowd-sourcing the answer!)

If it’s you—or if you know who it is—contact me. I’d like to hear more about patent pro bono in Arizona.

Law Day photo recap by Alberto Rodriguez

Law Day photo recap by Alberto Rodriguez

On Saturday, April 25, the State Bar of Arizona once again held its annual Law Day legal-aid clinics. There, more than 20 attorneys volunteered ther time and expertise to assist more than 200 consumers.

The following update comes from my colleague Alberto Rodriguez:

“On Saturday, April 25 the State Bar of Arizona held the 2015 Law Day Legal Aid Clinics where 21 of its members offered free one-on-one legal consultations from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at two locations in Phoenix.”

“The clinics offered free legal consultations by members who practice Family Law, Bankruptcy/Foreclosure, Probate/Trust Law, and Immigration Law at State Bar of Arizona headquarters and St. Matthew Parish in central Phoenix. This year, the Bar partnered with ABC15 and Univision Arizona to promote the day-long clinics, which proved to be overwhelmingly successful.”

“Volunteer attorneys provided 216 consultations during law clinic for the 208 consumers who were seen. In addition, many attorneys offered pro-bono legal services after the clinic to consumers who needed additional help.”

To read more about the Law Day clinics—including links to media coverage and the names of all the volunteers—click here.

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:

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