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Spotlight on pro bono: Pro bono services for veterans

By Judge Barb Crowder, Secretary, ISBA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services

Adding a veterans subcommittee to the existing efforts of the Third Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee has allowed the committee to expand and target services specifically for the many veterans in the metro-east living in Madison and Bond County. The superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission has been a member of the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee since its inception and concerns over the many homeless and needy veterans have been part of the committee’s focus. The veterans subcommittee is working on information packets for veterans and for attorneys to highlight needs and services. The purpose of this article is to highlight the expansion of pro bono efforts and to encourage other programs to consider outreach for veterans.

Providing legal advice and legal workshops targeting veterans in honor of Veterans’ Day is a worthwhile and important addition to pro bono programs. The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee already provides free legal appointments two days per month in the Legal Advice Clinic at the Madison County Courthouse. Those appointments are open to low-income individuals who do not have attorneys and cover any civil or family law subject. Members of the veterans’ sub-committee wanted to highlight assistance to veterans near Veterans’ Day to thank them for their service and to help provide for their legal needs.

The Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee decided to host one day of legal appointments solely for veterans at its usual location at the Madison County Courthouse and scheduled those thirty minute appointments for November 12, the day after Veterans Day. In addition, taking pro bono services to the veterans at a community location was something the committee hoped would help inform veterans of available services targeted to them. A partnership with Southwestern Illinois College to be involved with their Veterans Benefits and Services Day scheduled for November 13 was a logical connection. The pro bono committee arranged to schedule a day of free legal appointments at the SWIC campus in addition to the day at the Madison County Courthouse. Volunteer attorneys were recruited to go to the college campus to meet with the appointments.  Veterans who want to have their appointments on campus during that day sign up through the Madison County Law Library just as appointments do for the Legal Advice Clinic.

The committee realized that with the veterans and family members attending an entire day of events at SWIC, there would be individuals who would benefit from legal information who did not make individual appointments. Southwestern Illinois College allowed the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee to schedule two workshops as part of its day of public workshops to be held in The Commons, the central location where information tables would also be set up for the veterans. Other public workshops scheduled included the Affordable Care Act, careers and employment, and financial assistance so adding the legal issues workshops was a good fit. The legal sessions were planned as thirty minutes on general civil issues (landlord tenant, collections, and small claims) and thirty minutes on family law issues. The speakers will also take questions from the attendees.

The goal of the legal advice targeting veterans is to recognize their contributions to our society along with highlighting the numerous services available to veterans. The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee’s veterans subcommittee is devoted to assisting the many veterans in the metro-east. The committee wanted to do more than just distribute brochures. Targeting individuals with one-on-one appointments and also providing specific legal information from speakers during a Veterans event at a local community college with a large number of veterans as students seemed like the best method of giving specific assistance and to highlight the programs offered by the pro bono committee to assist veterans. As pro bono programs are created and expanded throughout the state, those programs may want to consider adding a focus on veterans.

Posted on November 5, 2013 by Chris Bonjean
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