After reading the King County Bar Foundation president’s column on the facing page, I know many of you are fully convinced and committed to making a donation to KCBF this month, likely at our Breakfast with Champions event March 30. But for those who are still on the fence, would you keep reading this column for some additional points to consider?
Each year the King County bar serves more than 10,000 indigent clients through our pro bono programs and awards 50 minority law student scholarships each year. We accomplish this work with some 1,400 volunteer lawyers who are supported by 16 pro bono staff. Support includes client screening/scheduling and attorney training/mentoring.
The pro bono programs are a critical part of the civil legal aid safety net. We know that a client represented by an attorney is more likely to achieve a favorable result than an individual who appears pro se. Without us, many of those 10,000 clients would not have the legal representation they need.
The scholarships to make law school more affordable to minority students are a tangible way that today’s bar and bench can develop an increased pool of diverse lawyers for tomorrow’s profession. Past recipients of our minority law student scholarships practice today in our community and many serve on the bench. We know this program delivers on its promise to help build a legal profession that more closely reflects the broader public that it serves.
And now, more than ever before, our efforts are sorely needed in King County. We know from daily news reports of national attempts to eliminate federal funding for legal aid programs and of national attempts to roll back civil rights protections secured decades ago for minorities.
We need to assure the community we serve that despite these potential changes, the King County bar’s work in providing a pro bono legal aid safety net and underwriting law student scholarships will continue. We can tell our neighbors to count on having a volunteer lawyer available even if federal funding gets cut. We can keep building a diverse profession that can play a leadership role both among lawyers and judges in standing up for the rights of minorities in our society.
Both these efforts — pro bono programs and minority law student scholarships — take money to accomplish. This includes money to maintain the current level of programs and money to expand our services in response to a likely increased need in the future.
Some readers might be tempted to respond, “I’ve already paid my KCBA dues, why should I pay more money for these initiatives?” While member dues are the biggest single source of revenue used to carry out KCBA’s programs (both services for our members and for the public), they represent about one-third of our total revenue budget. Another third comes from education program and lawyer referral fees, as well as publication sales.
That final third comes from voluntary contributions by attorneys and judges like you. It allows us to do more than most bar associations that simply issue proclamations and talk broadly about the rule of law. This bar is able to mobilize a 1,000-person army of lawyers to represent the indigent. This bar is able to make law school more attainable for minority law students.
I know we are all called on to support many charitable causes, and so many seem to be on the front lines today more visibly than the bar. Our colleagues at the ACLU or Northwest Immigrant Rights Project are doing stellar work on very prominent issues. But I would argue that our charitable work at the King County bar, while not covered routinely by the media, is just as important.
Our pro bono safety net is protecting vulnerable county residents before they end up homeless, before they face alone a domestic abuser, before they risk losing their life’s savings in a bankruptcy proceeding. Our diversity scholarship alumni are now leading lawyers in the community and judges on Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, all mentoring new diverse members of the profession in how to succeed and serve our community.
If you can attend the Breakfast with Champions on March 30, you’ll have an opportunity to make a contribution at a level appropriate for you — $50, $250, $1,000. Any amount you give will be put to good use. And if you can’t attend, will you take a moment right now and visit www.kcbf.org/donate and make a gift to our charitable foundation?
We need attorneys and judges throughout the county, whether or not they attend the Breakfast, to support our public programs. Now, more than ever.
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