NPLS will be able to serve at least 150 low-income people thanks to a major gift from the Northampton County Bar Association. At a recent meeting, the Northampton County Bar Association membership approved a contribution of $50,000 to NPLS. This support will employ a full time staff attorney at NPLS who will focus on a wide variety of legal issues affecting low-income people.
“These are challenging economic times,” said Northampton County Bar Association President Victor E. Scomillio. “Resources from IOLTA have been limited by the combined factors of the decline in business transactions and extraordinarily low interest rates. The Northampton County Bar Association has committed to add its own additional resources to assist NPLS funding shortfalls .”
NPLS Executive Director, Victoria Coyle stated, “In this environment a decision to say ‘yes’ to legal aid is an affirmation of the work NPLS does on behalf of low-income people in our community.” Ms. Coyle also commented that the Northampton County Bar Association’s gift will “boost morale amongst not only NPLS staff; but the circle of support that staff receives from other social service organizations when they are coordinating services for clients. Fortunately, the barrier of access to justice just got smaller thanks to the generosity of the Northampton County Bar Association.”
Both Scomillio and Coyle noted that while this is a sizeable and unique monetary donation, it is by no means the only evidence of community support from local lawyers. Members of the Northampton County Bar are involved in community service projects, both as individuals and as a collective professional organization, and they also provide pro bono services when needed, as part of the lawyer’s oath of service.
Legal aid lawyers serve their communities by providing affordable counsel to clients, meeting them in the office, representing them in court, and visiting them at home if necessary. Staff attorneys may or may not have a specialized area of law but will take on 150 cases at a time and help each client through the legal process. In addition, legal aid lawyers provide services that include workshops held at the office, outreach events and fairs held in the community and assistance at social service agencies. Attorneys and staff at NPLS often find they are social workers as well as legal advocates.
Many clients just need to speak to an attorney. The law prevents anyone but an attorney from giving legal advice, so this is critical. Something as simple as properly filing documents with the court helps streamline the flow of cases on the docket, preventing backlogs and problems with paperwork. This saves each client the stress of appearing in court without specialized training and saves judges the frustration of wanting to see people get a fair day in court without a working knowledge of the ins and outs of the civil legal system.
Gaining access to needed health care can be critical. If disability or illness precludes a person from working, applying for benefits might be the only way to preserve the family income. Permanent disability or veterans benefits are a long term help. Short term benefits can also carry a family through a rough time.
Ensuring that a family moving from welfare to work gets all available benefits and programs helps a family maintain income and preserve the basic economic security and stability of the home, as can intervening to prevent an eviction or foreclosure. This type of early intervention helps prevent bigger problems down the road.
Clients experiencing domestic violence don’t have the luxury of ample time. Securing a protection from abuse order can’t wait. Getting to court is paramount to the safety of the client and possibly the children as well. Help in dealing with the legal aspects of domestic violence and referrals to the appropriate service agencies is key to preventing the ongoing cycle of abuse that comes from a child growing up in an abusive home.