Kentucky Volunteer Lawyer Program
Frequently asked questions about Pro Bono
- How do I find a lawyer if I can’t afford one?
- What is KyVLP?
- Is this the same as legal aid?
- Why do we need attorneys to volunteer if we have legal aid?
- How is legal aid funded?
- If I volunteer in community and civic organizations, why do I need to do pro bono?
- Why should I do my pro bono service through a pro bono coordinator?
- What am I committing to if I "sign up"?
- Pro bono cases seem to be never ending. Can I limit my time for pro bono?
- What about malpractice insurance?
- Are there pro bono opportunities if you do not want a family law case?
- If my practice area doesn't lend itself to pro bono work, how can I help?
If you are looking for a lawyer for a civil lawsuit (no crime is charged) and cannot afford one, call your local civil legal aid program. To learn more, click here.
KyVLP, Kentucky Volunteer Lawyer Program, is a collaborative effort by the Kentucky Bar Association (KBA), Kentucky's four civil legal aid programs, and the Access to Justice Foundation, to strengthen and increase pro bono participation by private attorneys in Kentucky. The statewide program aims to raise awareness of the attorney's ethical obligations as set forth in SCR 3.130 (6.1) which encourages attorneys to donate legal services to persons who can not afford it or to give financially to organizations that provide such services. Acting primarily through local pro bono coordinators, the KyVLP wants to recruit more private attorneys to represent low income citizens; to identify and implement strategies to increase legal services to this under served population through pro bono advocacy; to provide training and support services for volunteer lawyers and local programs; and to recognize participating law firms and attorneys providing pro bono.
No, but it is related. KyVLP seeks private attorneys to represent individuals who can not afford an attorney and whose needs can not be met by civil legal aid programs either because of the lack of personnel or a lack of resources to provide legal representation.
The need for representation of low-income persons greatly exceeds what civil legal aid programs can provide. Legal aid is turning away at least one client for every one it serves, and many others need legal help but simply do not know where to find it. Legal aid lacks funding to hire more attorneys and acquire more resources.
Funding for legal aid programs is dependent on Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a private non-profit corporation established by Congress to oversee the provision of civil, legal assistance to low income individuals. LSC depends on Congressional appropriations. These funds barely meet the needs of legal aid and most programs seek ways to supplement their LSC grants with funds from state and local governments, IOLTA programs, federal agencies, bar associations or other charitable organizations, foundations and corporations.
Community and civic service is commendable, but lawyers have a monopoly on providing access to justice as only those educated, trained, and licensed to practice law. While not every case has merit, many persons are being denied their basic rights to pursue legitimate claims or to assert legitimate defenses. No one should be denied legal assistance because they can not afford it.
There are several advantages to lawyers in providing pro bono service through an organized program: (i) coordinators screen clients to determine client eligibility and legal issue needed; (ii) litigation costs are usually waived through the program; (iii) in some programs, coordinators can assist with filing the necessary paperwork; (iv) malpractice insurance through legal services covers these cases; (v) mentors or legal aid staff with expertise are available in the poverty law areas; and (vi) pro bono programs are able to collect data, document the legal needs in the community, and report the availability of service, to help support funding requests.
Signing up simply puts your name and general information in a database so pro bono coordinators can send information to you by email. Depending on your preference, pro bono coordinators will send out emails to let you know what types of cases need legal representation in your practice and geographic area. You may also receive information about CLE opportunities or other announcements about pro bono in your areas. For direct representation or for specific volunteer opportunities, you will be contacted by your local program coordinator and specifically asked if at that time you are able to accept a case or otherwise be involved.
Pro bono programs will try to accommodate your needs and time constraints. Many programs have, or are developing, scheduled and limited time slots for task specific opportunities. Another option is to pick an attorney, probably in your firm, and agree to both work on a case.
Lawyers who take case referrals from, or participate in programs or clinics through, the KyVLP or any Kentucky legal aid pro bono programs are automatically covered by malpractice insurance for that work. Check with your local coordinator to see if the coverage is primary or secondary. In most cases, it is primary.
Yes, other opportunities are available. Lawyers are needed in a numerous practice areas, some more than others depending on your geographic area. Contact your local pro bono coordinator to learn more or if you are interested in starting a new program.
You can donate money to your local pro bono program. Consider the cost of how many hours you would be willing to donate, preferrably 50 per the rule, and the value of providing that many hours of civil legal services to someone. The KBA and ABA encourage direct representation but also permit financial support to legal aid organizations as an alternative when direct representation isn't feasible.
Another alternative is to find a niche for your pro bono services. Various CLE trainings are available in poverty law areas on a periodic basis and, if you agree to take a case, the CLE is often free. Pick an area of interest for your pro bono work and attend a training or ask for training if none is scheduled. Mentors, co- counsel, or staff support may be available if you need assistance on your first few cases. In some areas, clinics are offered and a brief training is held before the clinic. Discs with forms or other information are provided and an experienced lawyer in that area is available to answer questions.
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