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The Role of Law Libraries in Access to Justice

A new report was released last month entitled, “The Sustainable 21st Century Law Library:  Vision, Deployment and Assessment for Access to Justice.”  As stated in the report,

“Sadly, this Report, and the urgency of its recommendations, is grounded in the grim reality that our justice system has not met the needs of its most vulnerable and needy litigants. Study after study of the civil legal needs of low-income people in the United States tell a remarkably consistent story: the legal needs of most low- and middle-income people remain unmet.”

The report examines the danger of this trend while providing the opportunity law libraries have in assisting the unrepresented in gaining access to justice.  The report recommends broader missions for law libraries, collaborative efforts with courts and legal aid providers, expanded use of technology and broader roles of non-lawyers in providing education and information assistance.

Administer Justice and the Kane County Law Library are ahead of the pact in providing these services.  For the past several years our organizations worked together to plan a “Lawyer in the Library” project that became a reality last year.  The Kane County Law Library’s Self Help Center works with Administer Justice, the court system and private bar to deliver critical information to clients in need.  By using on-line technology, Administer Justice has forms that attorneys can access to provide general information, guidance and pro se assistance to individuals in the community in need of assistance.  Judges frequently refer unrepresented individuals and members of the private bar along with Administer Justice staff join the staff at the library in delivering these services.  Today we have three rooms built out in the judicial center and every week we serve people in need of help and hope.

For centuries Christians have often helped lead the way in innovative solutions to education, health care, and other services.  The time has come for us to help lead the way in the justice crisis facing our nation.  With expanding roles of paralegals and other non-lawyers, we can leverage ground-breaking technology to provide access to justice across the nation.  This is a call for all and we hope you will join us in administering true justice to those in need.

Fathers Matter!

Fathers matter.  We see dads all the time who want to spend time with their children, support their families and set good examples.
While statistics demonstrate an increase in broken families, abandonment and abuse, not all fathers fit these statistics.  Most want to protect and provide for their families, but face significant challenges in our broken world.

More than ever we need men to be men.  Families without men make up the largest poverty demographic.  In addition to resources, children suffer without their fathers.  Young men are significantly more likely to get involved in crime than those with fathers.  Young women are significantly more likely to suffer abuse, pregnancy and divorce in families without fathers.  Dads matter.

The absence or anger of fathers also has a profound impact on faith.  People from broken homes find it significantly more difficult to see a loving father in heaven when the one they know on earth is vastly different.  Fathers matter.

The good news is that every man can begin a new cycle.  Every man can make a difference.  Sam did.  He watched his nephew Ryan growing up in an abusive home.  By the age of five Ryan lost his father to prison, and his mother was absent most of the time and when present was drunk or on drugs.  Sam knew he had to make a difference, but did not have the funds or know-how to do something legally.  Administer Justice came alongside Sam and helped him obtain guardianship of his nephew who now has a stable home environment and a man he can look up to.

To all the fathers and husbands who are setting good examples we say thank you.  You are making a real difference in our broken world.  Continue to lead by example and encourage other young men to do the same.  Happy father’s day!

Exercising Justice!

Recently a group of justice supporters gathered together to exercise justice.  We weren’t writing briefs before the United States Supreme Court.  We weren’t standing before a judge in a courtroom.  We weren’t giving legal advice to a client.

We were walking.  That’s right we were walking.

That simple act had a significant impact on justice for the poor.  How?  As we walked, we talked about the needs of the poor and why we care about the least of these.  We wore shirts that stirred conversations around God’s heart for justice for the poor.  And we raised money.  Not a lot, but a little, and the point was to do something.  Get engaged.  To in some small measure know that we were part of something bigger.

Maybe you wonder how you can make a difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable trapped by injustice in our legal or government system.  Maybe you can’t write a Supreme Court brief, appear in court, or provide legal counsel, but you can raise awareness.  Do you like to crop?  Next time you are having people over call it a “stampin’ out injustice” party and share some stories, a short video, and take up a collection.  Talk about justice issues while you crop.  You can do the same with a barbeque, pool party, movie night, Bible Study or any group activity.  Give your group gathering a purpose, a cause, and take the opportunity to make a difference.

We have the tools on our site to guide you in the process or contact our community impact director, Marty Page – [email protected]  We are continually adding new ideas so check back.  If you have a great idea, please share it with us.  Post your event on Facebook and encourage others to get involved.  Your act might seem small, but together we can have a significant impact.  Go ahead and exercise justice today!

The Economic Impact of Legal Aid

This week the Social IMPACT Research Center released a report on the social and economic benefits of legal aid.  The report was commissioned in hopes of demonstrating to legislators the financial benefit of legal aid.  Congress has consistently cut funding to the Legal Services Corporation at the precise time when the economic downturn pushed more people onto the poverty roles.  From a high of $450 million funding is heading down to $350 million.

Legal aid plays a vital role in protecting the rule of law and affording equal access to justice for all.  By preventing clients and their families from becoming homeless, from being victims of violence, fraud and abuse, and ensuring clients and their families receive benefits that help them meet basic needs, legal aid often means the difference between hunger and food on the table, entering a homeless shelter and being stably housed, and the provision of safety and security from exploitation and abuse.

The released study of 8,134 cases handled by seven agencies in Illinois in 2010, concluded these agencies won $49.4 million in monetary awards, $11.9 million in government benefits, avoided $1.9 million in costs that would have been incurred without intervention, and $9.4 million in savings from the avoidance of abuse and exploitation.

The study demonstrates the important role that an advocate plays in the provision of justice.  What the study does not demonstrate is the greater impact a faith-based organization can have in providing not only this critical help in momentary crisis, but eternal hope.  Christian Legal Aid provides the same services at a fraction of the cost of government supported providers.  Christian Legal Aid has significant impact on the economic health of communities, while changing the environment in a community by demonstrating love for our neighbors.

Now is the time for the Church to stand in the gap of this increasing need and make a difference.  The Church has unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate justice to the least of these.  There is a church in every community across this nation and there are needs in every community across this nation.  Administer Justice through its newly formed national organization – Gospel Justice Initiative – has the tools to equip the church to live out its calling to evangelize the lost, disciple the saved, and impact a community with acts of justice and compassion.  Let’s show our nation that justice matters to God’s Church and let’s be people of practical justice for those in need.

Justice is ________

How would you fill in the blank?  Recently our Community Impact Director, Marty Page, had the opportunity to speak to a large group of Middle School kids.  Here are some of their responses:

Justice is….

“a word”.     There’s always at least one in a crowd.

“a clothing store for little girls.”       And sometimes there are two.

“Everyone getting what they deserve.”

“Being treated fairly.”

“Fairness for everyone, freedom, victory and a very happy feeling, hope.”

“Jesus”.

I was impressed with these and many other thoughts from the kids.  All these answers are true, though perhaps incomplete.  For many justice is getting what one deserves.  There are those who believe the poor have created their problems and are getting what they deserve.  I am certainly grateful that God does not hold such a view or the punishment for my actions would be hell.  Rather he sent Jesus to be our justice.  Jesus suffered the greatest injustice through a rigged trial, suffering and death, so that he could be our advocate before the Father.  In His grace and mercy he demonstrates his love for us and freely justifies – freely gives justice.

Part of justice does involve being treated fairly.  The challenge in this view apart from God is in defining what is fair.  When it comes to the poor God is very clear in using balanced scales, not exploiting, or taking advantage of the widow, the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  In fact more than 2,000 verses from the Bible address poverty and justice.

Ultimately justice is about freedom, victory and a very happy feeling of hope.  That freedom and victory come through Jesus.  No matter what our circumstances Christ loves us and wants a relationship with us.  That is good news.  That good news of the gospel is why we call ourselves a gospel justice ministry.  People need justice.  People need Jesus.  And yes that provides a very happy feeling of hope.  “So the poor have hope and injustice shuts its mouth.”  Job 5:16.

In the words of a sixth grader, Justice is… cool.  That God would so love us and ask us to demonstrate that love to our neighbors through acts of justice is very cool indeed.

The Challenge of Single Moms

“Mom, I want my old life back!”  

He was three years old and his words cut like a knife in the heart of his mother.  Amy wanted her old life back as well.  How could she explain to her son that his father was not coming back and a divorce was imminent?  All she wanted was to protect her son, wrap him in her arms, and keep him safe from the hard realities that lay ahead.  How would she have the strength to carry on?

Amy’s story is one we hear frequently at Administer Justice.  Amy had a wonderful middle class life, until she woke up one morning and her husband was gone.  After the divorce she found herself among the ranks of single moms who struggle to balance time, money, and the challenges of parenting.  More than 58% of children under the age of six who live with a single mom live under the poverty line.  That compares to only 13% of children living with married parents.  Divorce is devastating.  Sometimes it is inevitable and its causes are varied and complex, but its effects are unmistakable:  poverty, worry and stress.  In the midst of the complexities of life, people need a place to turn to for help and hope.  Administer Justice is such a place.  As Amy said,

“When the world’s legal help offered no more than promised victory in the fight, Administer Justice offered a hand out of the pain – and realized the fight was much bigger than that which was right in front of us. From that first moment, walking into the office I felt God’s presence. The volunteers that folded the pamphlets full of hope, or hung the artwork that gave a visual to the purpose of Administer Justice and Bible verses of hope, the woman who greeted me with kindness and compassion at the desk – they each had a hand in healing my crushed spirit. This entire organization was a healing balm to my weary soul.  I cried as the attorney prayed for me and not just me but for my husband and son as well.  No one shrunk back from me.   They wrapped their arms around me.  They promised protection through their legal knowledge yet offered love to all involved. They reached their hand willingly into my situation and demonstrated God’s healing love.  Administer Justice knew what needed to be done and empowered me to be able to handle the situation.”

We want to help people through the pain of this broken fallen world.  Years have passed for Amy.  She is now remarried and has a stable home.  She joined our board of directors and brings a passion for helping people through some of the darkest days of their lives.  She speaks on behalf of moms who face multiple challenges.  She also demonstrates that God is not absent in the midst of trials but is an ever-present help in times of trouble.

I have great respect for our nation’s mothers.  As we celebrate mother’s day I hope we will celebrate the many sacrifices mothers have made and are making every day as they seek to make the world a better place even in the midst of brokenness and challenges.  Pray for our single moms and encourage them.  If they need help will you let them know we are here to help them.  As Amy said,

“I recently met another single mom at church.  To say I met her may be an overstatement.  I barely spoke to her—she wasn’t able to speak through the tears streaming down her face as her friend simply said… her husband has left and she isn’t sure what is going to happen.  Her house may be in foreclosure this week and she went to the food pantry today to make sure she had enough for her two children.  As I hugged her—I told her – I have walked in this shadowy place and there will be a day that it will be better. Do you know about Administer Justice?  I want you to save up your strength. All you need to do tomorrow is find the strength to call this number. I am confident you will be stronger and more at peace even if all you need is someone to talk you through the maze of what is happening.

How could I be so confident Administer Justice could help her?  Each day, in this place, I know that God is glorified. Each day, in this place, the word of God is lived out in action. Each day – hope is instilled. And as the effects of Administer Justice live on in my life and my son’s – I am certain in saying it lives on in many others.  I am privileged to join in this effort having been one who had nowhere to turn for guidance, but was rescued through Administer Justice’s devotion to a God who believes in defending the weak, comforting those in need, and speaking hope into every dark corner of this world’s most difficult situations.”

Should lawyers be required to do pro bono?

Have you heard this one – “What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”  “A good start!”

Jokes abound because lawyers are too often seen as being interested in business, over serving others.  One Judge in New York is doing something about it.

Starting next year New York will become the first state to require new lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before they can be licensed to practice law.  The announcement was made by Chief Judge Johnathan Lippman on May 1.

“Those who are privileged to call ourselves lawyers have a special duty as gatekeepers of justice to participate in what we hold so dear,” he prefaced in addressing the most pressing responsibility facing all lawyers – “instilling and fostering a culture of service in the men and women who enter our profession as lawyers each year. It is the legal profession’s commitment to equal justice and to the practice of law as a higher calling that has made service to others an intrinsic part of our legal culture.”  Judge Lippman said.

How will you choose to benefit your fellow man and your community with your new skills?”

Will you use your legal acumen to foster equal justice in our state?

Do you recognize that being a lawyer requires an understanding that access to justice must be made available to all regardless of their station in life.”

“From the start, these responsibilities of the profession must be a part of every lawyer’s DNA — to support the values of justice, equality and the rule of law that make this state and this country great.”

The New York Times picked up Judge Lippman’s remarks.  As the paper noted:  “The need (for legal aid) has exploded in recent years as the economic crisis delivered what advocates call a triple whammy:  more people are struggling financially; more people need legal services to cope with foreclosures, evictions and credit and employment problems that could push them into long-term poverty; and state and federal financing for legal services has plunged… While criminal defendants have a constitutional right to free legal representation, defendants in civil cases – as well as people who need legal help for essential needs like applying for disability benefits – do not”

Administer Justice recognizes the significant increase in critical needs.  Something must be done or we rip the very fabric of our democracy.  The United States has the greatest legal system on earth but when we rank next to last in the world in the 2011 Rule of Law Index for providing access to that justice system, the system breaks down.  I applaud Judge Lippman’s sentiments, but I think we need to  better educate law students in why it is important to serve our fellow man.  We need to talk about law as a noble calling defending the weak and guarding the innocent.  Someone may take a job as a patent lawyer or a mergers and acquisitions attorney, but the heart of our profession must be about serving the vulnerable.

I don’t believe the great truth of our profession, engraved on the United States Supreme Court of equal justice under law, can be compelled – I think it must be caught.  The nearly 240 attorneys volunteering for Administer Justice do not serve out of compulsion but out of a desire to administer justice with mercy and compassion.  Every year they stand in the gap on behalf of clients in need and donate thousands of hours.  They represent the best of our profession and I would love to see thousands join them in these efforts.  I pray that mandating pro bono does not result in poor service or poor attitudes as I fear it might.  We will watch the New York experiment with interest.

So what would you call 10,000 new lawyers required to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before getting their license?

“New Yorkers”