This year marks a new chapter in the cooperation of pro bono programs in Washington. The statewide Access to Justice Board, established by the Washington Supreme Court, has created a new committee called the Pro Bono Council. Through the Council, the 18 different pro bono programs in the state will be brought together so that they may share knowledge and together develop solutions to common challenges facing these volunteer programs.
The following is an overview of how the Council was conceived and what it plans to do in its first year.
Volunteer pro bono programs, such as those of the King County Bar Association, play a critical role in the civil legal aid system of Washington. With 85 percent of indigent parties proceeding without legal help in civil matters such as landlord-tenant disputes, family law dissolutions and bankruptcy proceedings, it is impossible for our state's very hard-working programs, such as the Northwest Justice Project, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, alone to meet the huge demand for services.
A robust pro bono network of attorneys can significantly expand the reach of services. The KCBA pro bono program, the largest in the state, is a good example of how this extra capacity can make a difference with 1,300 volunteers serving 10,000 clients per year.
At KCBA we support these volunteers with 16 full- and part-time pro bono staff (six attorneys and 10 non-attorneys), who train and support volunteers, screen potential clients and schedule appointments. As successful as we are with pro bono service delivery in King County, we still don't begin to make a significant dent in that 85-percent unmet need figure statewide.
Our counterpart pro bono programs in places such as Clark, Lewis and Yakima counties have even fewer staff resources to support volunteers. In recent years KCBA has tried to help by making copies of our volunteer trainings available online to other pro bono programs in the state, yet there remain many aspects of pro bono program administration and service delivery needs in these other programs that are not supported.
Last summer a group of leaders in the statewide civil legal aid community, including KCBA's Pro Bono Services Director Threesa Milligan, ATJ board member (and past KCBA president) Geoff Revelle, Office of Civil Legal Aid Director Jim Bamberger, and Legal Foundation of Washington Executive Director Caitlin Davis Carlson, reviewed discussions by pro bono programs statewide and agreed that the community could benefit from developing a more unified voice for the volunteer programs. LFW ultimately agreed to fund for a one-year pilot period a full-time staff position to coordinate the work of the new Pro Bono Council.
The proponents agreed to five initial tasks for the Council. First, it will serve as a forum for the volunteer programs to discuss and, when possible, form consensus positions on significant statewide issues and communicate those positions to other, relevant civil legal aid programs. Second, it will work as a vehicle to identify and prioritize needed training programs for volunteer programs (including their boards) and work with relevant stakeholders to design, obtain funding for, produce and distribute them.
Third, the Council will function as a forum where ideas for collaboration and efficiencies among programs in the delivery of services could be analyzed and suggestions made to the programs involved. Fourth, it will act as a catalyst and facilitator of pro bono programs' participation in regional planning with the other members of the statewide civil legal aid system. Finally, it will collaborate with and assist LFW, LAW Fund and staffed programs in applying for and identifying potential pro bono program participants in multi-agency public and private grant requests that are appropriate for a regional or statewide approach.
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