MISSOULA – The Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana will focus on the theme of access to justice during its annual Law Week April 18-22. Events will explore the need for civil legal assistance among low-income Montanans.
The Montana Legal Services Association, a nonprofit agency funded by the Legal Services Corporation and the generosity of donors, has partnered with UM during Law Week to discuss ways Montana attorneys can help address the need.
Four free continuing legal education credits are available, including one ethics credit. Credits 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.
A full list of all law week events is available on the School of Law calendar at http://www.umt.edu/law/newsevents/events/default.php.
About 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, current 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.
With 15 attorneys on staff, 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, MLSA often provides training to attorneys willing to provide pro bono assistance in a specific area of law. Self-help clinics are also offered to low-income communities in order to maximize available legal assistance.