The term "benevolent lawyers" may seem an oxymoron to some, but it is more fact than fiction in Utah. Likewise, the term "And justice for all" will be more than empty rhetoric if attorneys respond as expected to a statewide fund-raising effort that kicks off today under that same title.
Utah Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and the Disability Law Center are uniting to raise money to provide legal services to Utah's poor. Their goal is for each lawyer to donate the equivalent of two billable hours annually and to raise at least $825,000 a year. That is in addition to countless hours of complimentary pro-bono legal services already rendered.Most of the money would pay for non-criminal legal work in domestic cases -- including to help spouse- and child-abuse victims -- and to help the disabled and those embroiled in landlord-tenant disputes. In those and other areas of need, the disadvantaged are often unable to pursue legitimate claims due to lack of financial access to the legal system. This campaign would go a long way toward solving that.
Historically, the three organizations spearheading the "And Justice For All" campaign have received a limited mix of federal and private funding and no state dollars. They have conducted well-intentioned fund-raisers separately, but felt their efforts would be more effective and less burdensome to members of the legal profession if they conducted one unified effort.
That simplifies matters, and setting a benchmark donation of two billable hours per person in each firm or practice is reasonable. Those making more can give a bit more, and those with less can give accordingly. The impact is relative. Most important, that impact is extremely positive and worthwhile.
Last year, 16,000 people were served through Utah Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and the Disability Law Center. At least half that number were eligible for assistance but were not served because of inadequate resources. That is terribly unfortunate and would change with sufficient funding.
Of course, more than the legal profession may contribute to this worthwhile undertaking. Donations from any private or public source are welcome. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation has pledged $100,000 in matching funds when $300,000 is raised this year. Early indications are that objective should easily be met.
In today's complex and often litigious society, providing legal work for those in need is a legitimate charitable undertaking that merits strong support.