Pictured are, from left, County Commissioner E. Hamilton Wilson, Jr.; State Bar President Thomas J. Methvin; Montgomery County Bar Association President Patrick L.W. “Pat” Sefton; and Royal Dumas, Chairman of the Montgomery County Bar Association Pro Bono Committee.
At its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Oct. 26, the Montgomery County Commission presented a Resolution officially declaring Pro Bono Week in Montgomery County, October 25-31, 2009. The resolution was presented by Commissioner E. Hamilton Wilson, Jr., to State Bar President Thomas J. Methvin of Montgomery (Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C.); Patrick L.W. “Pat” Sefton, President of the Montgomery County Bar Association (Sasser, Sefton, Tipton and Davis, P.C.); and Royal Dumas, Chairman of the MCBA Pro Bono Committee (Hill, Hill, Carter, Franco, Cole & Black, P.C.).
“Providing access to justice for those who cannot afford it levels the playing field. When we improve access to the state’s courts we are actually helping Alabama families help themselves,” Methvin said.
The situation is particularly acute now as the recession has caused many financial problems to morph into legal problems and increasing numbers of the poor and disadvantaged are turning to legal aid programs because they have nowhere else to go. The right to counsel in civil cases is necessary to make equal justice under law a reality. But last year, for more than half a million poor persons in Alabama, the only reality was a pressing legal problem that went unresolved.
Methvin said that the types of unresolved civil legal problems include: women who are seeking protection from abuse, mothers trying to obtain child support or custody of their children, families who are facing unlawful eviction or foreclosure that could leave them homeless, and individuals who have lost their job and need unemployment benefits.
During Pro Bono Week, lawyers in each of the state’s 42 judicial circuits will participate in
events like: conducting free legal clinics offering advice and counsel in areas such as elder and family law; discussing with community and civic groups the critical need for the Legislature to provide a continuous stream of funding for legal services, and recruiting additional lawyers to volunteer to provide pro bono service.
Additionally, the Montgomery County Bar Association has plans for continuing pro bono outreach in Montgomery County. The MCBA will debut a monthly free legal services clinic, which will operate on the first Tuesday of each month, beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Currently, Alabama ranks 51st in the U.S. and its territories in the amount of funding provided for civil legal aid. On average, the state spends $10 annually for every low-income citizen and this rank places us behind every state and Puerto Rico.
“We are grateful to our elected representatives for including in the state budget funds for legal aid but it’s still a shameful situation. Given the tough economic times we are facing, we have to do more,” Methvin said. He has dedicated his term in office to improving access to justice.
According a nationwide survey conducted by the American Bar Association earlier this year, 73 percent of lawyers reported that they had provided free legal work to people of limited means.
The 16,000-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.