This week [October 20-26], bar associations across the United States are marking what they call the National Celebration of Pro Bono. Pro Bono means lawyers provide their professional services for no cost.
In Spokane County, the bar association’s Volunteer Lawyers Program has provided pro bono services for nearly 35 years. This week allows that program to highlight the work that it does.
If you’ve ever had contact with the legal system, you know it can be confusing and sometimes expensive to navigate.
“People are guaranteed a lawyer for criminal matters under the constitution. But matters don’t happen in a vacuum and people often have things that are happening outside the criminal law system that require lawyers," said Kristina Ralls, an attorney and director of legal operations for Spokane County’s Volunteer Lawyers Program. That program, she says, provides free advice for people who need help with civil matters.
“Family law, primarily," she said. "We do parenting plans, divorces, non-parental custodies, other types of parenting plan issues. We also help with bankruptcy, Chapter 7. We also help with people who are facing garnishments and collections in the civil arena. We have lawyers in the courtroom who can help with that. We also help with people who are being evicted.”
Volunteer attorneys provide advice on simple matters. It’s not meant for cases that require an ongoing attorney-client relationship.
The Volunteer Lawyers Program has several events scheduled as part of Pro Bono Week for people who need legal help. Ralls says there’s such a demand for these services that all those clinics are full, as is a workshop for creating wills scheduled for next month. The program offers clinics on a variety of topics, year ‘round.
Bar Association Executive Director Julie Griffith says the Pro Bono celebration is also an attempt to recruit attorneys to give some of their time.
“There’s somewhat of an expectation that attorneys do provide pro bono services. Some do take that on just by themselves and so they don’t go through the Volunteer Lawyers Program. I’m not sure what the percentage would be, but it’s not as high as we would like to see as far as lawyers volunteering their time," Griffith said.
Kristina Ralls says she volunteered quite often when she was a younger lawyer, in part to learn from more experienced attorneys.
“I have always been a person who cares very much about the people in my community and I feel like it’s my responsibility and duty to share my knowledge with people who might not otherwise be able to achieve that kind of representation," Ralls said. "So I do it because it makes me feel good and because it helps the people around me.”
You can visit the Volunteer Lawyers Program office on the fourth floor of the Courthouse Annex, right behind the courthouse. There you can sign up for clinics and get different kinds of legal paperwork. Or you can visit the Volunteer Lawyers Program website.