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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. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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