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Talk to a Lawyer event a success

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The statewide Talk to a Lawyer Today event that annually takes place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been hailed as the best yet by organizers. All 14 pro bono districts had at least one walk-in and/or call-in site for lawyers to answer questions from members of their communities for free.

Attorneys who work in District 8 - Boone, Hamilton, Marion, Hendricks, Hancock, Johnson, Morgan and Shelby counties - participated at the statewide call-in center at the Indiana State Bar Association. There, 26 lawyers talked to 322 callers Jan.18, up from 266 last year, according to Laurie Beltz Boyd, district plan administrator for Heartland Pro Bono Council.

Boyd and others who participated said they noticed an increase in the number of calls from Marion County but said it was likely because of the publicity the event received from Indianapolisbased media outlets.

As to why lawyers participate, two Indianapolis city lawyers who volunteered at the call-in center said there were multiple reasons. Steve Neff and Leannette Pierce have volunteered every year since 2005. They agreed the CLE was a good deal; a six-hour CLE is offered to all volunteers in exchange for taking one pro bono case and volunteering two hours at Talk to a Lawyer Today. While Neff and Pierce cannot take pro bono cases because of their positions with the city, they paid a nominal fee instead.

Both said it was a good experience to talk about a number of legal issues with members of the community. This year, Pierce said she heard more child support questions than before; Neff said he answered many questions about debt and bankruptcy issues. Each attorney received 10 calls during the 9 to 11 a.m. shift.

While some attorneys are intimidated about volunteering because they aren't used to multiple areas of law, Pierce said the book volunteers receive is very thorough. She added the book has been helpful after the event when relatives ask her legal questions she doesn't know offhand.

There was also a Spanish hotline at the Indiana Bar Foundation in Indianapolis. Five attorneys there answered 26 calls about family law, criminal law, debt collection issues, and immigration, among other questions.

Monica Fennell, executive director for the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, said one unusual circumstance this year involved District 11: Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, and Jennings counties. That district's offices were in the building in Columbus that had a devastating fire Christmas Eve.

Fennell said soon after the fire, that district's plan administrator, Tammara Sparks, called her to ask for another copy of the DVDs for the Talk to a Lawyer Today seminar.

"We got the DVDs to her right away, and she was able to hold the seminar in an alternate location," she said.

Sparks said this was the first time they were unable to find a location for a call-in site, which she believes may have affected their numbers. The 28 volunteer attorneys for District 11 helped a total of 40 people.

In District 2 - St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko, and Marshall counties - the event was at the St. Joseph County Public Library. Amy McGuire, executive director of St. Joseph County Bar Association, said 18 attorneys and 12 paralegals helped 80 people with a variety of legal issues.

McGuire said the event was so successful and appreciated by the library that the library invited the bar association and the South Bend-based Volunteer Lawyer Network Inc. to have a similar event on a monthly basis.

In District 13 - Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Martin, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh, and Warrick counties - 12 attorneys and five paralegals helped prepare 29 wills as part of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana Inc.'s partnership with Southwest Behavioral Healthcare. Indiana Lawyer reported on this partnership in the Aug. 19-Sept. 1, 2009, edition, "Project helps patients create wills."

District 13 also has a regular Talk to a Lawyer Today program on the first Thursday of every month. Their Jan.7 Talk to a Lawyer Today program helped 46 members of the community.

In District 3 - Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells, and Whitley counties - 48 attorneys and six non-attorney volunteers helped 193 people, based on information compiled by Indianapolis attorney Patricia McKinnon, who volunteers and also helps track statistics statewide.

McKinnon said that in District 14 - Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Crawford, Orange, Washington, and Scott counties - seven attorney volunteers answered 16 calls, mostly about family law issues.

In District 1 - Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski, and Starke counties - plan administrator Judith Stanton reported 71 attorneys helped at 11 different sites, answering a total of 137 questions. The highest turnouts were at two LaPorte County library sites, the Lowell Public Library in Lake County, and the Knox Public Library in Starke County.

District 6 - Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, and Randolph counties - had sites in four different counties. Volunteers for that district had 157 consultations and helped an estimated 223 people given the number of families and couples who had questions.

This event has been sponsored by the Indiana State Bar Association since 2002.

"This year's program was the most successful program in our eight-year history. We answered more questions, and helped more people, than we ever have in the past," McKinnon said.

"This is due the tremendous amount of hard work put into this program by the local pro bono plan administrators, as well as the overwhelming support given to this program by the ISBA and the Indiana Pro Bono Commission. I hope next year's program will be even better!"

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