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Hebenstreit: Banding Together for the Greater Good

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IBA-hebenstreitUsually, the collective body of a group can accomplish greater good than the individual parts. That is one reason people band together, be it for religious purposes, political ideals, or service to a community. This is certainly true of your IndyBar.

As lawyers, we know that helping those who cannot help themselves is part of our calling. Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard has stated that “(g)enerations of Indiana Lawyers have lent a hand to people in need at a moment when they couldn’t afford to pay. More of our fellow citizens need assistance during this recession, and it’s fortunate that the profession is better organized than ever to support the thousands of lawyers who’ve been willing to volunteer. It has plainly improved our profession’s standing with the public.”

In addition to assisting a person in need, pro bono attorneys have a positive impact on relieving the congestion of the Courts. But sometimes making the plunge into pro bono legal activity is not as easy as it seems. Is it reasonable for an IP lawyer to learn how to handle an interstate child custody matter just to participate in pro bono? Maybe for some, but there is a serious deterrent effect an anyone who is jumping outside their comfort zone. If your firm does not have a pro bono director, where do you turn? In our frenetic lives, sometimes it is just easier not to think about giving away our time and talents.

One of the many services the Association offers is the ability for lawyers to bridge the gap between knowing they should participate in pro bono services and actually doing it. As a collective group, under the leadership of Andy Campbell of Baker & Daniels, the IndyBar has already conducted the background work and has implemented many opportunities for our members to serve the needs of the community, even if your firm does not have a pro bono director.

One of the most fun programs is the Legal Line. On the second Tuesday of each month, lawyers gather at the IndyBar office to answer telephone calls. Caren Chopp does a great job alerting the community about Legal Line through public service announcements and flyers. Typically, there are 9 to 10 lawyers available each month to answer the calls. Each year, a very helpful booklet is prepared by the IndyBar that is a fantastic reference tool for our volunteers. It contains concise information about a large variety of legal issues including child support matters, immigration issues as well as Social Security information. The callers are quite interesting, and frequently really do not have substantive legal problems; they just need some one to chat with that can help them sort out the problem. Participating in Legal Line is not a frightening process. You will be surprised at how many of the questions you can answer just from law school, but if a call is very specific, both the resource book and one of your fellow volunteers can surely help out.

Similar to Legal Line is the Ask a Lawyer Live program. It is held twice a year in the Marion County Public Libraries around the county. Again, there is promotional material to attract “clients” including paid advertising. Our IndyBar paralegals are typically site coordinators. Lawyers volunteer to work a two hour time slot in the late afternoon, and each is provided a free copy of the resource book. Our volunteers assist 400 to 500 individuals each session.

Almost 2 decades ago, Scott Montross discovered that many residents of the homeless shelters in the city had great need for legal guidance, but no ability to pay for it. In fact, due to the transient nature of some, it was difficult for the person to schedule an appointment, even if they wanted to. Under Scott’s leadership, our volunteers agree to serve a 2 hour shift at the various homeless shelters. Members are only asked to serve 2 to 4 shifts during the year and are paired with another volunteer. Again, the problems are usually very basic, but incredibly important to the primarily women (and their children) who find themselves with no where to turn.

One domino effect of the recessionary economy has been the large number of personal bankruptcies. Several years ago, the Commercial & Bankruptcy Law Section established the Bankruptcy Help Line. If you have expertise in Bankruptcy, you can agree to be a helper. On two Wednesdays per month, the public is encouraged to call and obtain free telephone information. The volunteers do not even have to leave their own office. The calls are routed through the IndyBar, and forwarded right to your desk. How much easier can that be?

For the Probate lawyers, the Low Asset Will program and the Hospice Program could be a good fit. There is a pre-screening process, and our volunteers help prepare wills and end of life documents for individuals who don’t know and can’t afford an attorney to help them with sometimes very important guardianship, Powers of Attorney and related matters. The Hospice program provides an opportunity to assist with end of life legal issues through Wishard, Methodist (now Indiana University Health), the Abbie Hunt Brice Home and St. Francis Hospital.

How terrible would it be to have a special needs child and constantly be at odds with the school system over what type of assistance the school will provide for your child? As a result of Judge Grant Hawkins’ leadership, the School & Advocacy Program was created to assist those low income and foster families receive and enforce an individualized education plan for their special needs child.

If your area is family law, the Marion County Superior Court Pro Bono Project is for you. Judges are constantly faced with problems when a person has no attorney and is trying to navigate the maze of family legal matters. The attorneys who volunteer for this project are listed in an online database. The Judge, while on the bench and in the middle of a hearing, can access the database and assign one of our volunteers to assist that litigant.

We all know about the need for free legal assistance, but why do I think it is important enough to write about now? The numbers. Our pro bono programs are quite successful and have provided many of our members with the structure to participate in pro bono. To be specific, 335 IndyBar members are volunteers in our programs, but we have 5000 members. Many lawyers volunteer through other sources and provide tremendous benefit to our community, but we should have more of our members providing manpower for IndyBar programs. It is easy and does not entail a huge time commitment. Nothing feels better than knowing that you made a difference in the life of someone truly in need. Contact Caren Chopp at cchopp@indoybar.org or contact Andy Campbell to be placed in the perfect fit to gain that feeling.•

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  1. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  2. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  3. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  4. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  5. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

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