||Thomas G. Stolpman
Pleas for attorneys to do their share
|State Bar President Thomas Stolpman responds in this column each month
to questions from bar members. To submit questions for the president, please
send them to: Ask the President, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St.,
San Francisco 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail to email@example.com.
This month's question and Stolpman's response:
QUESTION: What is the role of the State Bar in making sure that
legal services are available to poor and middle-income Californians?
STOLPMAN: The State Bar has a significant role to play in ensuring
that all Californians have access to legal assistance. The hope that poor
and middle-income Americans can ever have equal access to justice has been
severely damaged by congressionally mandated restrictions and cutbacks
in the budget of the Legal Services Corporation.
While these cutbacks do not directly affect the work of the State Bar
and its office of legal services, they have had a devastating impact on
the providers of direct legal services to the poor in communities all over
At the same time, the complete overhaul of the welfare benefit system
and the immigration laws has affected hundreds of thousands of indigent
Californians and greatly increased their need for legal representation.
The State Bar, working with other key entities in the state, will
continue to do what we have done extremely well over the past decades:
The State Bar is continuing to call for full and adequate funding
of the Legal Services Corporation.
Leaders in the justice system, including Chief Justice Ron George,
myself, as president of the State Bar, and others, are involved in recognizing
the tremendous volunteer efforts of many in the profession, and speaking
out about the need for lawyers to reinforce and reinvigorate themselves
in their commitment to public service and to pro bono legal services. Our
joint Bench-Bar Pro Bono Project is pursuing innovative ways to involve
the judiciary, local bar associations and legal services providers in expanding
representation for low- and moderate-income clients.
Our office of legal services is a model for the rest of the country,
assisting legal services programs and local bar associations to develop
a variety of methods for more effectively involving the private bar in
helping indigent clients.
The Resource Exchange Project, a new joint effort of the bar's office
of legal services and the Public Interest Clearinghouse, uses the Internet
and other technology to help local providers share training materials and
other resources, and increase awareness of the latest innovations.
The State Bar has also just received a grant from the American Bar
Association's Immigration Pro Bono Development Project for the California
Immigration Coordination Project. Working with Public Counsel, the largest
pro bono program in the country, this grant will enable the bar to enhance
coordination among the disparate agencies in the state which provide sorely
needed legal services to immigrants and their families, with a particular
focus on efforts in Los Angeles County.
Several groups within the State Bar family, such as the real property
section, have started new pro bono projects to provide a vehicle for their
members to be involved and to help make a difference.
The State Bar has recently explored attitudes of California lawyers
regarding public service and pro bono legal work. We are hopeful that the
results of this research can be used to encourage those lawyers who are
already working for the good of the public to increase their commitment
to pro bono, and to discover ways that the State Bar can facilitate efforts
by local and specialty bar associations to encourage their members to get
Our Access to Justice Commission will be looking at all of the issues
related to our judicial system and dispute resolution in an effort to increase
access for all Californians.
Obviously, this is a long-term effort, and I encourage each California
lawyer to ask yourself whether you are doing your part to make sure that
our society provides "equal justice for all."
For more information about developing or expanding local bar pro
bono efforts, call the program development staff in the office of legal
services at 415/561-8800.