Annual Law Week to Feature Access to Justice Theme

The School of Law will host its annual Law Week April 18 – 22, with the theme of access to justice. Events will focus on meeting the need for civil legal assistance among low-income Montanans.

Currently, 144,000 Montanans live at or below the Federal Poverty Rate. Nearly half of those individuals report having at least one civil legal need they do not have the resources to address. While some civil aid programs are available, available funding can only provide one legal aid attorney per 11,077 low-income individuals. Many of the individuals in need of legal assistance face homelessness, domestic violence and the loss of public benefits that pay for food. Unfortunately, resources only allow about one-third of these individuals to receive help each year.

The Montana Legal Services Association, a non-profit agency funded by the Legal Services Corporation and the generosity of donors, is partnering with the School of Law during Law Week to discuss ways Montana attorneys can help address the need. With 15 attorneys on staff, the MLSA seeks to provide free civil legal services to all low-income Montanans.

Volunteers and advocates play an important role in the MLSA’s ability to meet Montana’s civil legal needs. In 2015, advocates and volunteers were able to handle 2,761 cases.

In an effort to meet Montana’s civil legal need, the Montana Legal Services Association often provides training to attorneys willing to provide pro bono assistance in a specific area of law. For example, attorneys wishing to assist with MLSA’s Indian Wills Project, an initiative to prevent Native Americans from losing their land to the federal government at their death, receive training from the MLSA so they can aid low-income clients. Self-help clinics are also offered to low-income communities in order to maximize available legal assistance.

During law week, four free CLEs are available, including one for ethics credit. They will address limited scope representation for low-income clients, access to justice in family law, and access to justice in veteran’s law. Practicing attorneys and law students are encouraged to attend.