Saturday night’s gala marking the 50th anniversary of Indiana Legal Services had the feel of a family reunion.
Former and current ILS attorneys, paralegals and staff along with lawyers who volunteer their services and friends of legal aid hugged, laughed and traded stories throughout the dinner held at the Indiana State Museum. Employees were recognized and standing ovations were given to former executive director Norman Metzger and longtime administrative assistance Ida Hayes.
However, the evening included an uneasiness. Like any family, ILS was concerned about its financial future especially in light of the White House’s call to eliminate all federal funding for legal aid.
This is not the first time an administration has made such a call. President Ronald Reagan also cut out support for the Legal Services Corp., which provides the bulk of ILS’s budget, during the 1980s but Democrats held the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate so the funding was always retained. Now Republicans are in the leadership positions on Capitol Hill and they may be more receptive to reducing support.
Jon Laramore, executive director of Indiana Legal Services, said his agency is trying to lessen its dependence on the federal government. Currently about 65 percent of its budget comes from Washington, but ILS is working to find alternative funding through grants and private contributions.
“I dare say we will still be here in 50 years,” Laramore said. “Our clients’ needs may be different, the legal landscape may be quite different but whatever happens in Washington in the next couple of years, we are not going away.”
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David also nodded to the uncertainty. As the keynote speaker at the celebration, he praised ILS employees and alumni for having a commitment and work ethic that benefits not only the individual clients but improves the legal health of the entire state.
“Everyone is better in Indiana because of Indiana Legal Services,” David said.
He credited ILS with providing justice and protecting property and people who otherwise could not afford legal counsel. The work ILS and its employees do, he said, should not be taken for granted and must be continued.
“We have fears, we have trepidation about what tomorrow will bring,” David said. “I consider that an opportunity for ILS to do great things despite what might be on the horizon. We can choose to be afraid, we can choose to be fearful or we can step up and move forward united. I believe we will step up and move forward united.”