Governance & Membership

August 2019 President's Message

Leave a Legacy

By Charles W. Chesnut

A person whom I respected greatly when I was growing up was a man in town who was very well to do, but you would never have known it by his lifestyle. He lived modestly, was rock solid in character, had a self-effacing sense of humor and was exceedingly generous in his giving to his community, his church and people in need. He never talked about his giving, but later you could sometimes spot his tracks. Most importantly, he always gave sage advice. (Side note: On his bucket list, he told me he had always wanted to fly in the cockpit of a jet plane, ride in a locomotive with an engineer of a train and ride in the cab of a semitrailer. The only one he didn’t get to do was ride in the semitrailer. Aren’t people interesting?)

He told me once that he didn’t understand why people, when they wanted to do good works, didn’t do them in their field of training. He thought people could accomplish the most good if they stuck to helping others through areas in which they were specially trained.

I think that most of us enjoy reaching out and aiding others in need. It makes us feel good about ourselves and can be a huge help to others who really need the assistance.

If we adhere to my friend’s philosophy, then as attorneys, we can accomplish the most productive results by helping someone resolve a legal issue that requires an attorney’s legal skills.

We are all familiar with the term “access to justice.” It describes the ability of any person, regardless of income, to use the legal system to advocate for themselves and their interests. It provides a means of leveling the playing field so that everyone can have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable. While the civil legal system can be a powerful tool for remedying wrongs, it is also extremely complex and can be difficult to navigate without the help of a trained attorney. For those unable to afford an attorney, access to the court system and the justice it can provide are limited.

Lack of access to an attorney is not the only access to justice issue facing low-income individuals and families. For those who choose to represent themselves, court costs and filing fees can be a barrier to obtaining justice. It can also be difficult to find information on simple procedural issues, like when and where to file a lawsuit and what rights you have in court.

There are many ways to participate in increasing access to justice. Some attorneys choose to provide pro bono legal services while others feel that working low bono (providing services at a low hourly rate) is right for them.

Nonlitigators can contribute by helping individuals through an administrative law maze, drafting simple legal documents, just giving some quality legal advice or contributing to legal aid.

In Oklahoma, we have “Free Legal Answers,” which is an easy and convenient way to provide legal advice to those seeking answers to legal questions and issues.1

Talk about leaving a legacy. The people you help will never forget you. Your time and talent will have solved a problem for them that they could never have solved on their own. Often, it really is not that difficult of an issue to solve; it just takes a little of your time and effort. It also sows good seed.

If each of us tried to do just one legal task a year for someone who could use our assistance but cannot afford it, think about all of the good deeds you could look back on in the course of your legal career. The cumulative effect of thousands of us doing that would be immense.

I encourage you to resolve to provide a legal service at least once each year for someone in need at no or low charge. It will build a better you, a better society and a better bar association.

1. To access Free Legal Answers, go to oklahoma.freelegalanswers.org.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 4 (August 2019)