Are You Ready for Some Pro Bono Month/Week Events?

Celebrate_Pro_Bono_LogoOctober is the month, lords and ladies, to get our metaphorical pro bono on.  The ABA-supported National Celebration of Pro Bono (a/k/a Pro Bono Week) runs from Oct. 20-25.  In several states, including Alabama and Arkansas, the entire month is used to celebrate and promote pro bono work among lawyers and law students.

Update: Public & Private Solutions to Providing Legal Aid for Unaccompanied Minors

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In early August “U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made an impassioned plea to U.S. law firms…to free up attorneys to help deal with the surge of Central American children who have entered the country illegally by providing more pro bono representation…  Biden urged lawyers to step up and help deal with a backlog of court cases.”  (Reuters)

Since then, government (on all levels), law firms, and other private-sector actors are reacting to the glut of unaccompanied minors who are being processed through the U.S.’s byzantine immigration system without legal counsel.  Here’s the underlying problem as reported by the Press Democrat:

Border patrol agents picked up more than 66,000 unaccompanied children, most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, along the southern U.S. border between Oct. 1, 2013, and the end of last month. They were turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, then underwent medical checks and were given immunizations before being placed in shelters or with relatives and sponsors.

Those shelters and other living accommodations are scattered throughout the U.S..  So the question has arisen about how to ensure that unaccompanied minors have access too legal services. Here’s what’s been happening:

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Canadian Supreme Court Justice Backs Provincial ATJ Commissions

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Justice Thomas Cromwell is an outspoken supporter of increasing civil access to justice.   As reported in the Metro:

Justice…Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada called for meaningful change to the justice system during his keynote talk at the National Pro Bono Conference on Sept. 25 in Regina.

Cromwell addressed the audience, many of whom were young lawyers and students, and referred back to a 2013 report from the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.

‘There is a serious access to justice problem in Canada. The civil and family justice system is too complex, too slow and too expensive,’ states the document, Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change.

Cromwell went on to outline six ways to boost ATJ in the Canadian civil justice system, one of which involves creating provincial “ATJ Implementation Committees”.

‘For coherent, collaborative and coordinated change to occur, mechanisms need to be available in all provinces and territories,’ states the report.

These AJICs, said Cromwell, should be places where individual leaders from the legal profession and members of the public come together.

‘Across the country we’re seeing different models set up,’ he said. “From quite small high-level committees to much larger more consultative groups.’

Pro se Representation in Connecticut Civil Cases Increased by 112% Since 2005

This puts things into perspective: “The number of self-represented parties in civil cases in Connecticut has increased by 112 CT_Quarterpercent since 2005.”  It’s a statistic that was cited by Chief Justice Chase Rogers, and reprinted in this Hartford Courant story about the rise of self-represented litigants.

The interesting questions are 1) how many of these litigants in court by themselves are financially eligible for legal aid but either didn’t know of it as resource or were turned away for lack of resources? and more generally, 2) how many of the litigants who were not income-eligible for legal aid would have paid for a lawyer if they could have afforded one?