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Law Day 2020: Make Law Day Year Round With Pro Bono Service

By Katie Dilks

Every year, hundreds of Oklahoma lawyers across the state come together to volunteer their time for Law Day. From the Ask A Lawyer service, answering thousands of questions from Oklahomans, to the events sponsored by county bar associations, it is one of the highest profile pro bono opportunities in our state.

We are fortunate that many dedicated Oklahoma attorneys volunteer their time and expertise regularly throughout the year. This service makes an incredible difference in the lives of those people they can help. Sadly, vast numbers of Oklahomans still navigate our complex legal system without the assistance of a lawyer because they cannot afford one, and our civil legal aid programs simply do not have the capacity to serve everyone.

The Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation (ATJF) was created in 2018 to support and advance the goals of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission to “expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Oklahoma residents.” A primary focus of the ATJF is to expand and support pro bono opportunities across the state. Our challenge to you this year is to think about how you can take that spirit of Law Day service and incorporate it year-round.

Many Oklahoma attorneys are already deeply committed to integrating pro bono into their practice, but for others it may be new. The American Bar Association encourages every practicing attorney to regularly volunteer pro bono legal services. The ATJC is committed to making sure every attorney can find a pro bono opportunity that makes sense
for them and collaborating with the OBA and other partners to do so.

There are many easy ways to connect to pro bono opportunities, ranging from full representation to discrete volunteer clinics. Here are just a few, and we encourage you to get in touch with the ATJF at www.okaccesstojustice.org to learn more about how to get involved or build a pro bono program in your community.

  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma – LASO has several structured pro bono opportunities and welcomes attorneys to take individual cases. LASO offers free CLE for volunteers, insurance coverage for pro bono cases, resources online and in person and more! Find more details at b.link/LASOprobono.
  • Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes Program – The OBA created the Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes program to serve veterans with a wide range of legal needs, from individual representation to wills clinics and other structured events. More info at okbarheroes.org.
  • Oklahoma Free Legal Answers – Need a pro bono opportunity that doesn’t require you to leave your desk? Sign up at b.link/OKanswers to answer questions submitted by low-income Oklahomans on the ABA-sponsored Free Legal Answers site! Answer one, answer 20, whatever you have time for. Questions and answers are both anonymous, and there is no further obligation once you answer.
  • Oklahoma County Court Access Clinic – If you’re in Oklahoma City and have experience with guardianship and probate matters, the OCCAC wants your help! Offering assistance in the courthouse to unrepresented litigants in guardianship and probate, this volunteer program has been providing invaluable assistance for the past year. Contact the clinic at occacprogram@gmail.com to volunteer.
  • Tulsa County Court Assistance Program – For Tulsa attorneys, the Tulsa County Bar Association Court Assistance Program offers pro bono support to unrepresented litigants in the forcible entry and detainer (eviction) docket. Training is available if you do not have experience in landlord/tenant law! Contact Beth Nellis at bethnellis@cox.net for more information.

Pro bono is key to making our legal system fair and accessible for everyone. It’s also an amazing way to give back, meet new people, learn new skills and much more. Let’s all work together to increase access to justice and make Law Day a year-round commitment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Dilks is executive director of the Access to Justice Foundation in Tulsa.

 

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ Vol 91 No 4 (April 2020)