CHRISTIAN LEGAL AID PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The mission of the Christian Legal Society is “doing justice with the love of God.” While there are now 35 Christian Legal Aid (CLA) clinics, and the Christian Legal Society (CLS) has trained over 300 volunteers,1 CLS continues to seek additional resources needed to equip a national staff and “seed” up to 120 more clinics in additional cities by recruiting and training more community leaders and volunteer lawyers and law students.2

Through the Christian Legal Aid Project (CLAP), CLS encourages and trains program leaders and local volunteers — primarily lawyers and law students — to help remove key legal and other impediments to a fuller life for the poor and homeless. CLAP does this through legal counseling, referrals, and intervention from a Christian perspective to prevent or mitigate the consequences of familial conflict, crime, addictive behavior, or the wrongful denial of asylum, citizenship, jobs, housing, food, medical care and other benefits.3 The preservation of families and services benefiting families, women and children occupies more than one-third of these voluntary efforts.

CLAP volunteers also try to block improper and sometimes illegal government interference with families and law enforcement that improperly targets the poor, homeless and disabled. As a part of a CLS recommended “Layman’s Christian Law School,” CLS encourages many communities’ self-help groups to provide education, instruction and training in self-help legal and other remedies for those who are able to address simple, commonly encountered situations or problems. More importantly, CLAP clinics take a “jugular” approach to attacking poverty that seeks to effectively address the spiritual and interpersonal problems that sometimes contribute to legal problems, indigence and homelessness. These underlying difficulties often result in disruptive legal symptoms and repetitive legal problems.

In a typical private interview program, CLAP volunteers (each of whom are asked to contribute at least four hours per month) provide advice, counsel and limited legal and related help to those being interviewed by developing plans to overcome the immediate and future similar problems. They also generally refer matters requiring more than a consultation and brief service to legal aid societies, public defenders and other volunteer case lawyers, including lawyers associated with the CLA project and other pro bono legal aid organizations. Knowledgeable volunteers estimate that 50 percent to 70 percent of the problems can be successfully resolved or beneficially impacted as a result of such interviews.4

CLS has developed CLAP as a faith-based alternative to traditional legal aid programs for four basic reasons. First, the Christian Scriptures teach that Christians should assist the disadvantaged and poor — Proverbs 29:7, 31-8-9; Psalm 82:3-4; Matthew 23:23, 25:31-40; Luke 4:18-19,10:25-39; 12:32-33. Second, faith-based social service agencies, supported by community volunteers, are sometimes more efficient and effective in helping clients get back on their feet.5 In addition, faith-based legal aid can offer clients something their communities may not currently offer: legal aid from a Christian perspective.6 Third, current legal aid resources already are insufficient7 and are being further threatened by reduced federal appropriations for the Legal Services Corporation and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.8 Fourth, CLS has found that CLA provides a way to improve the spiritual lives of both CLAP volunteers and the clients they serve.

Since May 1997, CLS Board Member John Robb has been serving as the full-time CLS Volunteer Director of Public Ministries. John, with the volunteer help of CLS members around the country, has made great strides in developing the resources and funding that helped to launch CLS Christian Legal Services program in 20 selected gospel missions affiliated with the International Union of Gospel Missions. Thanks to John’s work and the funding received from three major foundations from 1999 to 2002, CLS is well positioned to advance CLAP in a number of cities in 2003.9

FOOTNOTES
1 In March 1999, CLS received a $25,000 challenge grant pledging to match qualifying donations to the Christian Legal Aid Project on a dollar for dollar basis up to $25,000. In Dec. 1999, CLS was able to completely match the challenge gift. In Sept. 2000 and 2001, CLAP received $25,000 operating grants. In May 2002, CLS received a $50,000 training and new projects grant. CLS is credits the Stewardship Foundation, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Acheson-Cook Fund for their leadership grants, which have made CLAP possible.

2 CLS estimates that if it can raise $2.1 million dollars between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2007, ($250,000 - $500,000 per year), it can build its Christian legal aid network to 150 sites, involving up to 1,500 attorney and paralegal volunteers rendering up to 224,000 legal service hours to the poor and needy without charge. This would have a fair market value of at least $24 million. For every dollar donated, CLS estimates it will be able to provide an average of $11 of pro bono legal service to the poor and the needy.

3 The seven basic purposes of CLS CLA are to develop and use innovative methods of providing: (1) legal advice and intervention on behalf of CLA clients from a Christian perspective, which seeks to address unmet root as well as more immediate causes of poverty; (2) volunteer legal aid help for the poor through partnerships with established faith-based community social service providers, such as facilities associated with the Salvation Army, the International Union of Gospel Missions or other faith-oriented social service providers; (3) rehabilitation of the needy; (4) raising up general advocates for the poor who are committed to justly alleviating the broader causes of the poverty, where possible; (5) training volunteers how to conduct a CLA clinic; (6) equipping, mentoring and assisting young lawyers and law students in the context of the moral obligation to help the poor; and (7) nurturing and strengthening the vocational, spiritual and familial lives of CLAP volunteers to more effectively serve the poor, the homeless and their families.

For a general understanding of the reduction in public funding for legal aid and support for the idea of privately funded, volunteer Christian legal services, see “Defend the Rights of the Poor,” Gordon Beggs, The Catholic Lawyer, ed. 1 (1996). For an overview of the pro bono obligations of lawyers and law students, see “The Pro Bono Responsibilities of Lawyers and Law Students,” Deborah L. Rhode, Wm. Mitchell Law Rev. 1201 (2000). For a general overview of what can be done to improve equal access to justice for the poor, see “Access to Justice,” Deborah L. Rhode, Ford. L. Rev. 1785 (2001). For a legal analysis of the useful place of CLA in poverty law, see “Client Choices, Community Values: Why Faith-based Legal Services Providers are Good for Poverty Law,” Melanie D. Acevedo, Ford. L. Rev. 1491 (2002) [hereafter (Acevedo)].

4 A rigorous study of the new CLA at a local site in mid-1998 tended to confirm those figures and reported that approximately 85 percent of those interviewed received assistance and that 40 percent were open to discussing underlying spiritual causes and possible solutions to the root causes of their legal problems with the lawyer. More than 10 percent were interested in praying with their assisting counsel for guidance and direction in their lives.

5 See Acevedo at notes 7-11 for discussion of efficacy of faith-based organizations in the provision of social services. While faith-based legal aid projects do not yet qualify for government funding, other faith-based social service providers are now qualifying for government funding without having to sacrifice their faith-based identity under the “Charitable Choice” provisions of the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. §604a. The mobilization of faith-based social service providers using funding authorized by such “charitable choice” provisions currently enjoys bi-partisan support. The Bush Administration is proposing to end discrimination in federal funding against faith-based social service providers through it Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (Presidential Executive Order, Jan. 29, 2001, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/20010129-2.html) and its support of the pending Community Solutions Act of 2001 (HR 7). Faced with opposition to HR 7 in the Senate, the Bush Administration also is supporting the Community Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2002 (S. 1924, the “CARE Act”), co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of Senators led by Senators Santorum (R-Pa.) and Lieberman (D-Ct.). The CARE Act contains no “charitable choice” provisions, but section 301 of the CARE Act requires “equal treatment for any nongovernmental providers” that are or are applying to be involved in “the delivery of social services.” Under this provision, a faith-based social service provider “shall not be required to alter or remove” religious art, icons, scriptures, symbols, names, chartering documents or “religious qualifications for membership on governing boards.” The broad definition of “social services” in Section 301(e) of the CARE Act includes “information, referral and counseling services.”

6 The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct encourage attorneys to bring moral and ethical considerations to bear on clients’ problems. Rule 2.1 (1992) states:

“Advice couched in narrowly legal terms may be of little value to a client, especially where practical considerations, such as cost or effects on other people, are predominant. Purely technical legal advice, therefore, can sometimes be inadequate. It is proper for a lawyer to refer to relevant moral and ethical considerations in giving advice. Although a lawyer is not a moral advisor as such, moral and ethical considerations impinge upon most legal questions and may decisively influence how the law will be applied.”

For CLAP volunteers, this means addressing legal problems with advice and intervention that is inspired by and consistent with the teachings of the Christian Scriptures and Christian tradition.

7 As reported by The New York Times, Aug. 17, 2000, “Many of the of the nation’s biggest law firms — inundated with more business than they can often handle and pressing lawyers to raise their billable hours to pay escalating salaries — have cut back on pro bono work so sharply that they fall far below professional guidelines for representing people who cannot [afford legal services]. The roughly 50,000 lawyers at the nation’s 100 highest-grossing firms spent an average of just eight minutes a day on pro bono cases in 1999, according to a survey last month by American Lawyer magazine. That comes out to about 36 hours a year, down significantly from 56 hours in 1992, when the magazine started tracking firms’ volunteer hours.”

The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 6.1(1992) state:

“A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should...provide a substantial majority of the...hours without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means. In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.”

8 Phillips v. Washington Legal Foundation, 118 S. Ct. 1925 (June 15, 1998) holding that interest on lawyer’s trust accounts is the client’s private property and, therefore, may not be involuntarily taken by the state to pay for legal aid to the poor without the client’s approval or state legislation that could be found constitutional under the provision of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which provides that “private property” shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

9 Mr. Robb is a founding member of one of the largest firms in Albuquerque, Nm. where he remains “of counsel” as a retired partner. He is one of the founders of the Legal Services Corporation and was recognized in 1999 by President Clinton for his significant contributions to the advancement legal services for the poor in the United States during the past thirty years. In 2002, CLS, under Mr. Robb’s volunteer leadership, sought to start CLA programs in New York City, Detroit and Philadelphia.