Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Legal Network brings equal access to justice to all

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Attorney Robert Zink of Covington & Burling, LLP,
advises client Sharon Holquin in an unemployment
dispute. Through the Archdiocesan Legal Network,
dozens of attorneys like Robert provide pro bono legal
aid to thousands of people each year.
On intake days at our Archdiocesan Legal Network, Jim Bishop greets our clients with a caring smile.  Helping them gives him a sense of purpose and renewed motivation.  An attorney of 25 years, Jim has dedicated his life to giving low-income families access to sound legal help or advice they may not otherwise be able to afford.  Every day, Jim and other attorneys like him bridge the gap between inequality and justice for so many of our neighbors.


Jim Bishop delivers an address to attendees of
Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of the
Archdiocese of Washington's annual Dr. Martin Luther
King Mass at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in the District.
Jim says that sharing his faith at gatherings like this
is one of the most rewarding parts of working at
Catholic Charities.


As the economic slump continues, the work of the Legal Network is more relevant than ever, according to Jim.  “We’ve seen a huge uptick in clients and a change in the type of clients who seek our help. More and more people are coming in having been laid off, are struggling with credit card debt or are fighting former employers for withholding compensation or benefits.”

Intake days are the days attorneys in our Legal Network review new client civil cases – the Legal Network does not handle criminal matters.  Many of these cases are referred to volunteers within our network of more than 500 pro bono attorneys, who advise clients on issues ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to family law to benefits issues.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, and every other Wednesday, volunteer attorneys from law firms across the region come to staff intake at our 924 G St. location, meeting one-on-one to listen to client’s needs and asses how the Legal Network can help.

 “Many of our clients have never spoken with a lawyer before, and everything they know about our profession comes from television. So it is our job to help them feel comfortable, and most importantly, listen to what they have to say,” Jim said.

May Wall, an attorney with Winston & Strawn in Washington, DC, volunteers at least 25 hours a year helping low-income families facing legal issues.  “It makes what I see on the street every day so much more real,” May said.  While May specializes in environmental law and typically works with corporate clients, she said that the opportunity to serve at Catholic Charities gives her a glimpse at “real life,” the hardships that so many of our neighbors face and that are so often ignored by the community.

Winston & Strawn, like dozens of law firms throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia, encourage all of their associates to reach out a helping hand to our neighbors in need, incorporating a strong pro bono component into their organizational culture. 

And it pays off.  Last year, our volunteer attorneys opened 696 cases and conducted 14 law-related education seminars for more than 400 people in the District of Columbia and Maryland. The value of their time donated to the Legal Network is estimated at over $10 million.

For Jim, his career with the Legal Network is a place where his Catholic faith and professional skills intersect perfectly. “We try to shine the Lord’s light in the darkness,” Jim said. “We use this light to help people make good legal decisions and to move on with their lives.”

The Archdiocesan Legal Network needs you! Learn more about how you or other associates from your law firm can provide a helping hand to our neighbors. Visit us on the Web at http://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/aln, or contact Jim Bishop, Senior Program Manager, at (202) 772-4300.