By Michael B. Goldenkranz
Reaching 60 seems like a good time to say thanks. And for me, that means asking others to support the King County Bar Association's Pro Bono Legal Services. I'll spare you the statistics and data reflecting the void and cutbacks in legal aid (until the footnotes).1
Most of us may never need a criminal attorney, but are fortunate to have public defenders if warranted. Many, however, will need or benefit from lawyers for civil issues: dealing with a probate or will; being overwhelmed with debt; seeking protection as a consumer; requiring assistance with a divorce or family law matter; reviewing a contract; being denied public benefits; an unjust termination; needing help as a landlord or tenant; being involved with or the victim of an accident; as the subject of discrimination; handling immigration; battling an uncooperative insurance company; vacating old criminal records. And the beat goes on.
KCBA provides many forms of pro bono services, but it depends upon us to provide them. The free Neighborhood Legal Clinics throughout Seattle and King County can be utilized by anyone. There are general and specialty clinics. We help those where legal assistance is simply the tip of a client's iceberg - folks who can't afford shelter, let alone a lawyer.
We welcome those who are barely making it, just getting by and even doing well, but simply don't know where to start on a legal issue or how or where to find a lawyer. We counsel "do it yourselfers" who simply want some guidance or to have their forms or research checked. And along with the state bar, there are programs for those with moderate means, who can't afford to hire an attorney, but can afford to pay something. At the clinics we help to screen the issue and make appropriate referrals for those eligible for pro bono help.
And the fee is the same at our any of our Neighborhood Legal Clinics, even for repeat visits - nothing!
Our 39 Neighborhood Legal Clinics offer free half-hour consultations with an attorney on any civil legal issue. Attorneys determine whether the client has a legal problem, suggest possible options and provide appropriate referrals.
For the lawyers who volunteer at KCBA's Neighborhood Legal Clinics (or for any of the pro bono programs that either KCBA or the Washington State Bar Association provide), this is one of the ways we serve our community - by giving back. It is aside and apart from how we make or made a living. We receive no monetary remuneration. But at the end of the night, when folks who came in scared, desperate, angry, overwhelmed or just curious leave with a little more spring in their step, a sense of hope, and a plan and resources, we get paid with a spoken or implied thank you that can't be bought.
So, for my 60th birthday this April, I'm going to donate $60. And I'm asking you to join and match me by volunteering with any of KCBA's pro bono programs that appeal to you or by making a donation. But don't tell them I sent you - I'm keeping my birthday a surprise.
To volunteer, check out all our programs at www.kcba.org/pbs/volunteers.aspx or donate online with the King County Bar Foundation at https://www.kcba.org/kcbf/secure/donation.aspx. Checks are welcome to: King County Bar Foundation, 1200 Fifth Avenue, Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98101.
Michael Goldenkranz is an occasional volunteer at the Neighborhood Legal Clinics. He is grateful to have turned 60 in April and grateful for his 10-year-old rescue dog, Bella.
1 For those who would like a decent statistical analysis of both cutbacks in legal aid and those who volunteer as lawyers serving through pro bono efforts, please see: http://www.kcba.org/pbs/legalhelp.aspx; "Cuts in legal aid would harm those already financially strapped," The Seattle Times, Feb 24, 2012: http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2017630587_guest01madsen.html. The purpose of the Neighborhood Legal Clinics program is to offer free, limited legal advice and referrals to King County residents and Washington residents with legal issues in King County who might otherwise have no access to the legal system. It is a goal of the program to make the clinics accessible regardless of barriers such as income, education, language or disability.