Recognizes efforts of volunteer attorneys to increase access to justice
Councilmembers are joined by attorneys from throughout
At its October 21 meeting, the Metropolitan King County Council proclaimed the week of October 20 – 26 as “Celebration of Pro Bono Week” in honor of those who volunteer their time pro bono to provide legal services to individuals and families in need.
“As an attorney in private practice I worked on a number of pro bono cases on behalf of domestic violence survivors,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, the sponsor of the proclamation. “This firsthand experience gave me a deep appreciation for the tireless work done by pro bono attorneys, on behalf of our most vulnerable. Our justice system is better for everyone, as a result of their efforts and dedication.”
“The pro bono work done by attorneys for individuals and families in need are vital to maintaining a fair and just legal system,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, co-sponsor of the proclamation. “I am pleased to co-sponsor this proclamation and call attention to this important work.”
In 2012, over 67,000 hours of volunteer legal help was provided to over 20,000 people by Washington State attorneys. According to a pre-recession civil legal needs study commissioned by the Washington Supreme Court, three out of four low-income Washingtonians face a civil legal problem every year, but more than eighty percent of them face those problems without any legal help or representation.
Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) President Patrick Palace stated, “As an alliance, we are working towards ensuring access to justice positively impacts thousands of low-income people that require legal aid services to meet their basic human needs. The leadership that has come together for this special recognition represents the network that we’ve built to ensure that mission becomes reality.”
Law schools throughout the state have developed a strong culture of service through pro bono programs that help provide their students gain real world experience. Private firms offer support to legal aid organizations through partnerships that encourage pro bono – which the WSBA and the King County Bar Association promote.
“Seattle University School of Law is committed to providing equal access to justice, and we encourage our students and alumni to be leaders for change,” said Dean Annette E. Clark. “I am very proud of the pro bono work done by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and I’m grateful for Councilmember Dembowski’s recognition of the important role pro bono service plays in ensuring that the legal needs of our community are met.”
“Pro bono is of fundamental importance to the legal profession for so many reasons,” said Dean Kellye Testy, with the University of Washington’s School of Law. “Not only does it make an enormous difference in enhancing access to justice for persons, organizations, and causes that might otherwise go unrepresented, it also enhances the legitimacy of the rule of law in society. Pro bono is a privilege and means that every lawyer can be a public interest lawyer, no matter what field their primary work may be in.”
“Since the Pro Bono Pledge Program launched during the National Celebration of Pro Bono Week two years ago, our students have reported 27,920 hours of pro bono and volunteer activities,” said Diana Singleton, Director of the Access to Justice Institute at Seattle University’s School of Law. “Through their pro bono work, law students play an integral role in the equal justice movement, which helps create an ethos of service that ultimately serves as a foundation for their legal careers.”
King County has stepped up to support legal services in recent years due to declining federal support and stagnant state funding. The County’s role has enabled legal aid organizations to leverage support through unique partnerships.
WHEREAS, our justice system is founded on the fundamental principles of equity and fairness, and pro bono services grant individuals access to legal representation regardless of their means; and
WHEREAS, nearly three in four Washington residents face urgent civil legal issues each year, including domestic violence, divorce, child custody, foreclosure, eviction, financial fraud, and abuse, but only 20 percent receive any legal assistance on these matters; and
WHEREAS, in the wake of the recent economic recession, the need for legal services has become more pronounced, while available funding for civil legal aid programs in Washington State has declined; and
WHEREAS, access to legal assistance can improve economic security and personal safety, protect civil liberties, and lead to a more just society; and
WHEREAS, legal services agencies, pro bono service programs, the American Bar Association, Washington State Bar Association, local county bar associations, and private firms throughout the state have enlisted the services of volunteer attorneys to address the legal needs of low-income people; and
WHEREAS, in 2012, Washington attorneys provided over 67,000 hours of volunteer legal help to over 20,000 individuals and families to secure equal access to justice who could not have otherwise afforded it; and
WHEREAS, National Celebrate Pro Bono Week provides an opportunity to highlight the good work that Washington State attorneys do for the most vulnerable among us;
NOW, THEREFORE, we, the Metropolitan King County Council, hereby proclaim the week of October 20-26, 2013, as
PRO BONO WEEK
in King County to honor and thank the attorneys who volunteer their time and expertise to provide legal services to those in need.