When the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined in February to grant the Civil Gideon petition and its proposed requirement that legal counsel be appointed for impoverished civil litigants, it instead noted a familiar fallback solution: pro bono initiatives. When Congress decided in 2011 to drastically cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal services providers such as Legal Action of Wisconsin, the message was similar: lawyers should do more pro bono.
When it comes to the issue of poor people and their legal problems, passing the buck to lawyers in private practice is par for the course. Those who have the greatest ability to affect the problem and acknowledge it as a societal issue always give it back to the lawyers.
So much for venting.
The fact is, more lawyers should do pro bono, and not because those with the money and power shift the attention to the profession. Lawyers should be involved in pro bono because we took an oath that said we would; because we are ethically obliged “to provide legal services to those unable to pay;” because with very few exceptions, no one else can represent the unrepresented poor; because the problem is overwhelming; because it is the right thing to do. Continue reading “The Pro Bono Oath”
Many years ago, I attended my first meeting as a newly-elected representative on our church’s parish council. I was enthused, energized. Then an older man, a veteran of the council, pulled me aside before the meeting started and gave me a warning. “Now you’re going to have your eyes opened, ” he said. “It’s a lot easier when you don’t know about all of the issues.” And, of course, he was right.
I had the same experience some time later when I became involved in the most pressing problem facing our legal system: the inability of poor people to afford legal representation for the important life-changing issues they face. I had been involved in pro bono from the day I was graduated from Marquette, handling divorces, landlord-tenant issues, even a capital punishment case in Texas. I enjoyed the rewarding nature of the work and appreciated the hands-on experience. The clients I represented seemed to appreciate having a lawyer.
But while I was helping individuals now and then, and feeling comfortable that I was doing some good, I was blissfully ignorant of the big picture issues and challenges that had the system in a chokehold — the lack of funding for legal service providers, the reluctance of lawyers to become involved in pro bono, the resistance of some to changes in the delivery of legal services to poor people, the lack of leadership from those in the best position to lead. My eyes were anything but open. Continue reading “Equal Justice and the Poor”
Professor Vada Waters Lindsey today was honored by the United States Postal Service as a one of fourteen “Women Putting Their Stamp on Metro Milwaukee.” Professor Lindsey was honored in the Government Service or Law category for her tireless work on the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which program has served more than 1,000 people in six years at Marquette University Law School. Aside from coordinating the program, Professor Lindsey also trains all the student volunteers who assist with the tax preparation. The MULS VITA site has a 100 percent accuracy rate.
Professor Lindsey received her award today at a luncheon at the Country Inn in Waukesha. Congratulations, Professor Lindsey.
Professor Michael McChrystal once pointed out that in the State of Wisconsin, the penalty for working as a beautician without a license is not much different from the penalty for practicing law without a license. Continue reading “Tackling the Unauthorized Practice of Law in Wisconsin Today”