County celebrates Pro Bono Week

Published 10:25 pm Monday, October 21, 2013

On September 23, the Pike County Commission unanimously voted to recognize the week of October 20 as Pro Bono Week within Pike County.

Pro Bono Week is part of a national effort to increase the availability of pro bono legal counsel to those people living in the United States who cannot normally afford a lawyer.

Malcolm McSwean, president of the Pike County Bar Association, said that the week is a chance to recognize work the lawyers do within the community. “This is really meant to celebrate the time that attorneys put in to working with people who cannot afford legal services,” McSwean said.

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While there is currently adequate funding for the criminal defense system, Alabama does not provide adequate funding in civil defense cases. It is for these cases that pro bono work is most needed.

“When you’re a defendant in a criminal case, you’re set up with a lawyer,” McSwean said. “If you’re fighting eviction or another civil matter, you don’t have that available to you. There are a lot of attorneys out there who spend their time helping those people.”

This has been an issue that has affected the entire state. In 2012, 821,268 Alabamians lived in poverty, and one in four of those living in poverty experienced legal issues of some kind. Currently, the state only staffs 60 legal aid workers to serve the more than 400,000 households in Alabama that live in poverty.

McSwean said pro bono work can come in many varieties. “If you have a client who comes in who needs something small but doesn’t have the money for it, sometimes you just say, ‘No charge.’ out of the kindness of your hearts,” McSwean said. “Other times you might take on a pro bono client where you go to trial.”

Pike County Bar Commissioner Thad Yancey echoed McSwean’s sentiments. “Pro Bono Week is really celebrated to call attention to the fact that there are a lot of people who can’t afford a lawyer without a fee, and, a lot of the time, lawyers will do that work pro bono,” Yancey said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but most lawyers do pro bono work when it comes to them. It’s those cases that really hit you hard, and you’ve got to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”