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Lawyer commits to pro bono

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The aspirational pro bono goal for attorneys, set by the American Bar Association and endorsed – but not forced – by many states, is around 50 hours. Some Indiana attorneys work this into their annual budget by working with pro bono district plan administrators to accept cases when need exists and when they can easily fit them into their work schedules.

A Carmel solo attorney has pledged to do 150 hours of pro bono and modest means casework to be assigned from the Heartland Pro Bono Council, which covers Marion and neighboring counties.
 

Clar_Wendy-15col Wendy Clar (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

In January, Wendy Clar submitted 36 hours of pro bono and modest means cases, and in mid-February she said she’ll likely exceed her arbitrary goal and will keep taking cases as they are assigned.

Clar’s story is somewhat different from most attorneys who take on pro bono cases. Instead of fitting it into her schedule or taking a case from time to time, she plans to transition her practice to be mostly pro bono and modest means cases. She also hopes to offer legal services through her practice at a low rate to those who don’t meet the income qualifications for pro bono or modest means.
 

boyd-laurie Boyd

Clar first got involved with Heartland Pro Bono Council in 2007 when she called plan administrator Laurie Boyd after learning about the organization through the Hamilton County Bar Association, one of the many ways Boyd and other plan administrators reach out to attorneys. Boyd said nothing makes her day more than a call from an attorney asking how she can take a case.

In October 2010, Clar received a Pro Bono Publico Award at the Randall T. Shepard dinner honoring pro bono service in Indiana. Boyd nominated Clar because she completed 10 cases received from the Heartland Pro Bono Council in 2009. In 2010, Clar accepted 16 modest means cases and five pro bono cases.

Doing pro bono comes naturally to Clar. She received her master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University in 1988 and was a social worker for six years before she attended Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif., from 1995 to 1998. As a social worker in Rochester, N.Y., she worked with maltreated children and poor families.

After law school she worked as a part-time district attorney and a law guardian in Rochester, N.Y., and for a small firm in Newark, N.Y. She moved to the Indianapolis area after her husband accepted a job with the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2005.

Clar was admitted to practice in Indiana in 2006. In her solo practice she handles all aspects of Indiana family law including child custody, child support, divorce, emancipation, enforcement proceedings, guardianships, legal separations, modification proceedings, parenting time, paternity, post dissolution proceedings, prenuptial agreements, protective orders, and spousal support.

For Heartland Pro Bono Council, she has taken on a variety of cases and told Boyd to send her whatever she thinks Clar can handle. Boyd said she has tried to send Clar a mix of cases in terms of issues and time commitment, and that Clar has turned down only one case due to a scheduling conflict. Boyd has also tried to send a few modest means cases to Clar so she’ll be paid at least something, she said.

Another attorney who made a pledge to pro bono is Erin L. Berger, a solo who has a general practice in Evansville. In 2006, she offered to take on at least one case a month from the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, which serves 11 counties in that part of the state. She succeeded.

Berger worked for Indiana Legal Services in Evansville as an intern when she was in law school and said she always had an appreciation for civil legal aid and pro bono work. By helping with ILS intake, she realized how many people needed legal help but couldn’t afford it or didn’t qualify for ILS assistance. As a part-time public defender on cases that deal with children in need of services in Vanderburgh County, she sees the need for legal aid there as well.

Berger said she has continued to take as many pro bono cases each year as she can. In her district, she said, the plan administrators send a monthly newsletter that describes cases that need an attorney. Many times, she said, she’ll see a case she can handle and will volunteer.

Berger said she tries to take on pro bono cases in juvenile court such as guardianships, step-parent adoptions, paternity cases, and custody cases because she’s often there anyway.

Districts are looking for more ways to recruit and retain volunteers. While many have events to appreciate attorneys who take on pro bono cases and some offer free or reduced-fee continuing legal education opportunities for attorneys who accept pro bono cases, districts are also asking members what they consider as incentives.

Diane Walker in District 10 performed a survey and learned that the top five motivators for those who responded were free CLEs, “discrete tasks that are time-limited,” “peer mentoring,” “giving me continuing legal education credit for doing a case,” and “legal forms done beforehand.”

The top reason for doing pro bono work, given by 83.3 percent of respondents, was “access to justice is important to me,” she said.

Both Clar and Berger said they didn’t volunteer to take cases to help their respective districts because of the budget cuts the districts endured for 2011, but both said they hoped more attorneys would consider volunteering their time.

“Even if an attorney can give an extra hour a month to a pro bono case, that’s still 12 hours a year. It really adds up,” Clar said. “The clients are so appreciative. That’s the rush I get from doing this.”


fennell-monica Fennell

Boyd added that there is a growing need, something that was echoed by Monica Fennell, executive director of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission.

“I think more lawyers are volunteering to help those in need because in this economy there are constant reminders that unemployment is high, foreclosures are not abating, and people are in crisis – and lawyers want to help,” Fennell said via e-mail. “They are finding that there are many ways to use their unique skills, whether it is handling an appeal or attending a settlement conference with a borrower in a foreclosure case or one of the many other pro bono cases. For new lawyers and law students, doing pro bono work is also a good way to get experience in a tough job market.”•

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  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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