One in three Americans cannot afford an attorney. When the legal issues they face involve protection from fraud, abuse, exploitation, and unfair practices that threaten their families, housing, health and stability, the need for access to justice is critical. Every day more than 4,300 single moms, senior citizens, vets and others are turned away from legal services because there are only 8,000 legal aid attorneys compared to over 800,000 private attorneys. So private attorneys need to help. But are they?
We have a summer law student working on answering that question. No one has tried to answer the question on a national level since 2005. Illinois released its report yesterday on the pro bono work of attorneys in 2013 and the picture is bleak. Lawyers continue to give less time and money to the needs of low-income people. Only 34% of Illinois’ 91,083 attorneys did any pro bono work in 2013. Only 18% donated any money. Averaged over all attorneys the number of hours donated is 3 hours per year and the amount of donation per attorney is $154. We need to do better.
The lawyers who are donating their time average 36 hours per year which is close to the American Bar Association’s goal of 50 hours. The lawyers who are donating average $862 per year. So to those who are giving time and money, I say thank you. You are setting a great example and you are making a very real difference. But we need you to talk to your friends.
Pastors need to talk to attorneys in their church and challenge them on all the Bible says about using our gifts in service to the poor. Every Christian attorney should donate some time and money to serve low-income people in need. If not us, then who? If you know an attorney ask them if they are volunteering or giving to support justice for the poor and vulnerable. We need to change the legal culture. Instead of being discouraged by this news let’s see it as an opportunity to encourage our attorney friends to get involved in meeting the legal and spiritual needs of the poor. Pray for them. I have seen many lawyers lives changed as they step outside their comfort zone to serve the poor and vulnerable. Help them make that step of faith.
Point them to our new book site – www.gospeljusticebook.com – which will be live in a couple of weeks and encourage them to read the book Gospel Justice. Ask them to check out the website to see if there is a gospel justice center near them where they can volunteer. If not, see if you can pull together a support team around the attorney to start a center in your church. The needs are great but the opportunity to change lives both now and for eternity is even greater. Let’s make the most of this opportunity. Together, let’s go and do likewise.