cbareport_Oct12 - page 16

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October 2012 CBA REPORT
in the spotlight
E
E
qual justice under law
is not
merely a caption on the façade
of the Supreme Court build-
ing, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal
of our society. It is one of the ends for
which our entire legal system exists…
it is fundamental that justice should be
the same, in substance and availability,
without regard to economic status.” U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell,
Jr.
These inspiring words were spoken by
Justice Powell many years ago. Equal ac-
cess to justice does not happen by itself,
however, nor does government fulfill
this mandate. Despite the best efforts of
many, there will always be individuals in
our society who have a critical need for
legal help but who cannot afford to hire
an attorney. For the past thirty years, vol-
unteer attorneys in southwest Ohio have
fulfilled their professional responsibility
to help reach the goal of equal justice for
all, by providing pro bono legal services
to individuals and families in poverty
through the Volunteer Lawyers for the
Poor Foundation.
Addressing the Need
The Foundation began as collabora-
tion between the Legal Aid Society of
Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati
Bar Association. In 1982, representatives
of Legal Aid and the CBA met to develop
a strategy to ensure that low income indi-
viduals in the Cincinnati area were able
to receive critical legal help. Congress
had just reduced funding to the Legal
Services Corporation, which funded the
majority of Legal Aid’s budget, and Legal
Celebrating 30 years
VLP Marks Milestone Anniversary of Service to the Poor
Aid found it was not able to meet the
increasing demands for service. The Bar
Association had members who wanted to
volunteer their time and expertise, and
Legal Aid had clients in need. Together,
they formed the Volunteer Lawyers for
the Poor Foundation to “recruit and
maintain a reservoir of lawyers on a
voluntary basis to serve the needs of
people…who require legal services, but
whose incomes or means of support are
deemed by the corporation to be inad-
equate to pay for such services, and when
appropriate, to provide means of com-
pensating wholly or partially, the lawyers
who provide said services.” Cincinnati
attorney Harry Santen was very instru-
mental in this effort, and served as the
first president of the Foundation. He later
received the Equal Justice Leadership
Award from Legal Aid, which honors
individuals who demonstrate a strong
commitment to equal justice and who
lead others by example.
To implement its mission, the Foun-
dation developed the Volunteer Lawyers
Project (VLP) to recruit and support
volunteer attorneys in Hamilton County.
In recent years, the VLP expanded its
pro bono activities to Butler, Brown,
Clermont, Clinton, Highland and War-
ren counties. Today, the VLP has served
thousands of individuals and families
with serious legal problems through-
out these areas. VLP attorneys work to
secure justice for the disadvantaged and
protect the rights of those most in need.
Every year, the Foundation presents
its Volunteer Lawyer of the Year award
at the CBA annual meeting. This award
honors outstanding work done on behalf
of low income clients and recognizes the
attorney’s commitment to the VLP.
How the VLP Works
The VLP links private attorneys with
low income clients who have contacted
Legal Aid for assistance. Attorneys regis-
ter with the VLP, indicating the types of
matters for which they are willing to give
assistance. These matters may include
family law (divorce, custody, domes-
tic violence), homeowner/foreclosure,
landlord/tenant/eviction disputes, wage
issues, expungements, unemployment
compensation and other public benefits,
education rights of children, immigra-
tion, consumer, bankruptcy and probate
issues, including wills and uncontested
estates, guardianships and adoption.
After an eligible client is identified,
the VLP staff refers clients and provides
background information about their
cases to the volunteer lawyers. Experi-
enced Legal Aid attorneys provide back
By Virginia C. Whitman
Today, the VLP has served thousands of
individuals and families with serious legal
problems throughout these areas.
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