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ILS gets grant to recruit more attorney volunteers

October 10, 2016

With the help of a federal grant, Indiana Legal Services will be launching a new pilot project to recruit more attorneys from private practice into providing pro bono legal assistance for low-income clients.

A two-year grant totaling $325,837 from the Legal Service Corp.’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund will be used to enable the Indiana agency to partner more closely with two pro bono districts. ILS will use the funds to hire one full-time and one part-time staff member to increase the pool of volunteer lawyers and give those attorneys the support they need to work with the clients.

Jon Laramore, ILS executive director, believes attorneys will want to offer assistance when asked.  

“Lawyers are very interested in providing help to people who need it,” Laramore said. “What we’ll try to do is provide turnkey pro bono opportunities for lawyers that are easy to plug in to and that allow them to spend a reasonable amount of time (on these opportunities).”

The pilot project will focus on Pro Bono District F, which contains Blackford, Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Henry, Jay, Madison and Randolph counties, and Pro Bono District G which encompasses only Marion County.

Part of the grant money will be used to enlist consultation services to help set up and evaluate the project. As Laramore explained, ILS wants to follow best practices recruiting and supporting volunteer attorneys.

Having more pro bono lawyers available will allow ILS to assist some of clients who would otherwise be offered a lower level of legal help, like advice rather than full representation, or turned away altogether. In 2015, the agency could not help 4,000 applicants because it lacked the resources and capacity to serve them.

“We’re very grateful to the Legal Services Corp. for providing this opportunity … to better serve more clients,” Laramore said.

The Pro Bono Innovation Fund was created by the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Initially, $2.5 million was available but when the Act was approved again in 2015, the amount was increased to $4 million.    

Formed in 2011, the LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force developed the idea for the innovation fund. It views volunteer lawyers as “one critical means of increasing the supply of legal services” and recommended that the fund be used to encourage new ideas for engaging pro assistance.

In addition to the ILS pilot project, the Indiana Bar Foundation’s pro bono assistance website, Indianalegalanswers.org, will get a technological upgrade. The website will switch over to the platform created and run by the American Bar Association for its ABAFreeLegalAsnswers.org. The transition is expected to happen before the end of the year.

Hoosiers logging on with a legal question will still be connected to Indiana attorneys and the bar foundation will administer the content of the website but the nuts and bolts of the online service, like the information technology support and web design, will be handled by the ABA. Also the ABA will take over providing the malpractice insurance to the volunteer attorneys.

The bar foundation will save some money annually, less than $10,000, from not having to cover the IT services and malpractice insurance costs. Once the switch between hosting sites is made, the bar foundation will begin a recruitment campaign to bolster the number of lawyers volunteering.

Charles Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, said the biggest need is for more attorneys to answer the questions posed by people logging onto the website. Thousands of questions are posted every year. Stats from 2015 show that a majority, 60 percent, of the inquiries are about divorce or family law while 10 percent are about landlord tenant issues and another 10 percent ask about will and estate planning.

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