The Ohio Supreme Court and the state’s official access to justice entity are asking the more than 44,000 lawyers in the state to assist thousands of fellow Ohioans in need of legal aid.
In a partnership with the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation (OAJF), the Supreme Court sent a voluntary pro bono reporting survey to all of the state’s attorneys. The inquiry is a way for OAJF to collect data on how many people are volunteering, where, and what types of law in which they’re consulting.
“The need is great. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming. One in five Ohioans qualify for civil legal aid services,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a statement to the state’s lawyers.
To get the most accurate data in order maximize outreach, both organizations urge all lawyers, including the ones who prefer to donate their services anonymously, and the ones who have yet to volunteer, to fill out the survey.
“It’s the only way we can gauge statewide how far we’ve come, and how far we need to go,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “It will also help ensure that all areas of our state are being covered.”
Since OAJF began the survey in 2009, the foundation has documented responses in an effort to identify which areas are most in need, and what disciplines are in greatest demand. OAJF pro bono director Sophia Chang said people in rural communities, and those with transportation obstacles, experience the greatest disconnect from legal services. When armed with more information, the foundation is able to better coordinate with legal aid groups across the state, and unite lawyers with people seeking help.
“Generally speaking, what we have found is attorneys in Ohio care about pro bono, and they do pro bono, and year by year it increases,” Chang said.
Statistics from 2018 indicate lawyers assisted in more than a dozen disciplines. They ranged from foundational needs, such as housing and employment, to personal ones, like family law and establishing wills. Given the wide range of specializations, the technological advancements to consult via mobile apps, and the resources provided by legal aids, doing pro bono work is easier, and the ways to contribute are more plentiful.
“A lot of attorneys think of pro bono as full representation, and it takes hours and hours of their time, but that’s not true, because there are also other opportunities, like brief advice clinics where it’s only one or two hours a month,” Chang said.
Recent initiatives have included campaigns for record sealing and driver’s license reinstatement. Both are examples of how the legal profession can solve problems that have plagued people for years in as little as one day. The benefits in these matters aren’t exclusive to a client or an assisting attorney, but the entire practice of law.
“It lends itself to an overall confidence in our legal system that the system is fair and just, when people are represented by counsel. It’s our obligation as attorneys to help encourage that perception of our system,” said Gina Palmer, the Ohio Supreme Court’s attorney services director.
The survey can be taken by individual attorneys, or a single firm representative on behalf of all of a firm’s attorneys, and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete. The survey will be available only through March 9, 2020.
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