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 or contact Andy Campbell to be placed in the perfect fit to gain that feeling.•


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  1. What Mr. Bir is paying is actually Undifferentiated Family Support, which is a mixture of child support and spousal maintenance. If the courts had labeled accurately labeled the transfer payment, I think that Mr. Bir would have fewer objections to paying it because both Spousal Maintenance and Undifferentiated Family Support are tax deductions for the paying party and taxable to the receiving party. I brought this issue up with my family court judge when my voluntarily unemployed ex-wife was using the 'child support' transfer payment to support both herself and out children. Said family court judge stated that I did not know what I was talking about because I did not have a Juris Doctorate, despite my having a printout with dictionary definitions of the legal terms that I was using for documentation.

  2. Lori, you must really love wedding cake stories like this one ... happy enuf ending for you?

  3. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  4. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  5. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?