Growing organization creates legal assistance for Utahns in need

by PATRICK HARRINGTON

“…With liberty and justice for all.” When the Rev. Francis Bellamy drafted those words in 1893, he intended that they be awarded not to only a select few, but everyone. Over time the ideal that he strode for began to fade just like the paper on which it was written.

Using the words of Bellamy’s “Pledge of Allegiance,” the organization “…And Justice For All” has created a web of pro bono legal assistance for those who cannot afford or understand it in an effort to truly restore “…liberty and justice for all” throughout the state of Utah. Due to massive federal funding cuts to legal services nationwide 13 years ago, “…And Justice For All” was created to offer pro bono legal services to Utah’s community as well as create fundraising opportunities. Leading the group is Kai Wilson. Wilson joined the program in its infancy and since then the organization has come to be a fundraising umbrella agency for Utah Legal Services, Disability Law Center and Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.

“…And Justice For All” is the essential glue that binds the three legal bodies together by raising money, directing clients to the proper agency and attorney and educating people who need a legal edge but cannot afford consultation.

“The agencies offer help, anywhere from brief consultation to full representation in cases such as family law, disability claims, domestic violence cases and help with many other substantive matters,” Wilson said.

Although the attorneys in the agencies can fully represent their clients, many of them don’t need that amount of assistance. “Last year the agencies associated with ‘…And Justice For All’ assisted over 36,000 people,” he said.

Among the agencies, Utah Legal Services assisted 22,000 of those people, of which 8,000 received full legal representation in their cases.

The basis for the creation and continuation of “…And Justice For All” and its sister agencies is that people in the community who have the smallest voice and the least amount of resources typically need the most help with legal issues. Wilson said there is growing concern with the lack of legal access in America.

“Utah politicians are recognizing the problem that we face,” Wilson said. “One Utah lawmaker said that the state of the judicial system is that a lot of people are looking in at the party through the window, but can’t get in.”

Although the state and federal judicial systems are capable and accepting of pro se cases, self-representation may detract from the quality of judgment that a client may receive as opposed to having a qualified attorney.

Sharon Donovan is a prominent Salt Lake City family law attorney who served on the board of Legal Aid for six years and one year as agency president. Donovan also was recently named the Utah State Family Lawyer of the year.

“Legal needs should not be reserved only for wealthy or middle-class citizens,” she said. “The judicial system has no one to help all of the people that need it, nor the time to guide pro se clients while in the court of law. By having competent lawyers at no cost, the quality of judgment in the courtroom and the movement of the legal process is greatly improved.”

Within the past decade, “…And Justice For All” has grown from a grassroots organization to a respected and vital part of the legal community in Salt Lake City and Utah in general.

“As a part of being a lawyer, The Utah Rules of Professional Conduct  encourage any attorney to donate 50 hours of pro bono work a year or donate ten dollars in lieu of each hour to an agency providing legal aid to the poor,” Wilson said.

The agency is also seen as a great place to donate money, not only to help the community, but also provide tax deduction benefits to lawyers and firms in Salt Lake City. “Before the creation of the agency, only 5 percent of firms gave money to our cause; now over one-third of the Utah Sate Bar supports us financially,” Wilson said.

Although “…And Justice For All” has made strides in the legal community that were hard to imagine a decade ago, certain obstacles still remain.

“We would love to get to the point that we are helping as many people as more successful states, like Washington,” Wilson said.

What is stopping them now? “Money. It’s all about the money,” Wilson said. With funding from lawyers and private citizens alike, “…And Justice For All” could potentially meet its goal of increasing the number of clients who receive quality legal counsel and be a national leader in pro bono services within the next 10 years or less. To accomplish this, the organization plans to push forward with more fundraising and community involvement.