To the Editor:
As attorneys we embrace one of our nation's guiding principles: "And Justice for All."
Sadly, the truth is that approximately one of every eight Americans is so poor that paying for the basic necessities of life such as food and shelter is not possible, let alone the ideal of equal access to justice. Many of the same people who live below the poverty level also have critical legal problems ranging from foreclosure and evictions to loss of their parental rights, domestic violence and other fundamental needs that require legal help.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation provides free civil legal assistance to low-income and senior citizens in Madison County and 64 other counties throughout southern Illinois. Yet, the demand for legal assistance is overwhelming and Land of Lincoln lacks the resources to help every person who needs legal assistance. We must rely on pro bono attorneys to help us provide legal help to the poor.
Lawyers across the nation help bridge the "Justice Gap" by donating over 25 million hours of legal help. In Madison County alone more than 190 pro bono attorneys have donated hundreds of hours in free legal help over the last year to the poor in our community. These lawyers know that the only thing standing between homelessness, violence, and abuse for the poor is access to an attorney.
Over the last year, Madison County has launched several new pro bono projects, including the Legal Advice Conference Center and the Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, which would not exist without the donation of time by pro bono attorneys.
Last year Judge Callis created the Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee to help our community address the growing "Justice Gap" and encourage all attorneys to participate in pro bono work. That Committee, chaired by Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder, has worked diligently to address the means by which pro bono attorneys can meet the growing demand for free legal help to the poor in Madison and Bond counties.
This year the week of October 21 through 27 has been designated National Pro Bono Week. The Madison County Bar Association and the Judges of the Third Judicial Circuit, led by Chief Judge Ann Callis, will celebrate Pro Bono Week by recognizing the generous contributions of attorneys in our community at a luncheon on October 23.
During Pro Bono Week, let us as a community recognize the generosity of the attorneys in Madison County who have volunteered countless hours providing free legal help to the poor. Let us also work to increase our efforts as a community to give life to the concept of equal access to justice.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation