By Jon Laramore, Indiana Legal Services, Inc.
At Indiana Legal Services (ILS), we’re grateful. As the largest civil legal aid program in Indiana and the only statewide program, we’re grateful for the opportunity to provide individualized legal assistance—including advice and extended representation—to more than 11,000 Hoosiers in 2017.
We’re grateful to the Indianapolis Bar Association and to its members. You support our work through your financial contributions and your pro bono efforts.
Not only did many of you make personal donations, hundreds of bar groups, law firm managing partners, and corporate general counsels advocated for continued Legal Services Corporation funding. Your voices and those of attorneys across the nation were heard. Last week’s federal budget included a six percent increase in federal funding for civil legal aid—some of which will come to ILS.
That increase in funding will allow us to serve even more people in 2018, but we will still have to turn people away. Last year, we were unable to help to more than 3,000 people because we did not have enough lawyers to assist them. We were able to provide only advice and coaching to thousands more who would have preferred full representation.
Ask any civil court judge in Marion County, or in surrounding counties, and they’ll tell you about the growing problem of unrepresented litigants—people who are unable to afford legal counsel when they have family law issues, face eviction, or are subject to collection action for a debt they believe they do not owe. Or, people who want legal help to expunge a criminal conviction or obtain a specialized driver’s license to help them get a job or improve their current employment.
Here is one story that illustrates how access to legal help can literally change lives:
“Bob” was the victim of auto theft, but the police recovered his car and took it to an impound lot. When “Bob” went to the lot, he found he didn’t have enough money to pay the impound fee. He came to ILS when he got a letter from the impound company saying it would sell his car to cover the unpaid impound fees—even though he was the victim of auto theft and had committed no offense.
One of our lawyers got a temporary order halting the sale, and we negotiated the release of his car without paying a fee. “Bob” picked up his car the next morning and, that afternoon, he drove it to a job interview. He got the job, and now uses his car to transport individuals with disabilities to places they need to go.
Without legal help, “Bob” couldn’t have regained his car and gotten the job that has made him a more productive member of our community.
As lawyers, you know better than anyone how important it is for those facing key legal events to be represented by counsel. The law is complex, the courts are intimidating and all of it is easier to navigate when you have a trusted, knowledgeable helper. That’s what we provide to the thousands of Hoosiers who come to us every year with vital legal needs.
Members of the legal community, including Indianapolis Bar Association members, have a special understanding of how our work brings fundamental fairness – a level playing field – to the legal system. I believe we lawyers have a special role to play in explaining the need for civil legal aid and supporting its funding. Thank you for the support you provide to Indiana Legal Services and other civil legal aid organizations to ensure that civil legal aid is available to those who need it most.
Even though the recent federal budget included an increased LSC budget, future federal funding remains uncertain. We continue to diversify and grow our other funding to guard against too much dependence on a single source. If you would like to support us with your financial gifts, visit indianalegalservices.org. Please contact Jeff Heck (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to be part of our pro bono program.•