A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. Preamble to the Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct, ¶ 6
Established in 1982, the Volunteer Lawyers Project is the pro bono program of the Nebraska State Bar Association. VLP was created by lawyers with a common passion—an unwavering commitment to pursue equal justice under law for the less fortunate and unrepresented in Nebraska.
For more than three decades, VLP and its network of volunteer lawyers has provided critical civil legal services to Nebraska residents. VLP promotes equal justice by creating and facilitating pro bono programs that make it convenient, rewarding, and impactful for lawyers to help the poor get legal assistance they desperately need.
Every year, legal aid service providers have the difficult task to turn away thousands of people who apply for services. Studies show, for persons eligible to receive free legal services, half will be turned away due to limited staff and financial resources. Without VLP, many Nebraskans have nowhere else to turn for legal assistance. For these people, VLP is a place of last resort.
VLP programs are developed based on critical legal needs in Nebraska communities, and each program is assessed according to those needs. VLP recruits lawyer from all practice areas, provides training and resources, and works to match volunteers with eligible low-income Nebraskans who desperately need pro bono legal services. Presently, VLP manages five pro bono programs.
Referral to a Pro Bono Lawyer
Connecting people with a volunteer lawyer is the core of VLP programs. Too often, the people who most need full legal representation are those who can least afford to hire a lawyer. Pro bono legal representation impacts the client, the client’s family, the community, and the lawyer. In 2016, volunteers made a difference in the lives of more than 80 persons and their families.
[The lawyer] treated us like we were paying customers, kind and very thorough…As a family who has no money to take care of last wishes we were very impressed and appreciative.
[The lawyer] was very kind and helpful. When I talked to him on the phone, he knew who I was. He talked to me, not down at me.
Self-Help Centers are in courthouses in Buffalo, Douglas, Hall, Lancaster, Madison, and Scotts Bluff counties. In 2016, volunteers met with more than 2,000 walk-in visitors to provide general information about the court and civil legal process, give information about legal resources and legal services that may be available, answer basic questions about divorce, custody, support, guardianship, protective orders, landlord/tenant, debtor and other civil matters, and help visitors understand and complete court forms for self-represented persons.
I am very grateful for this program. I hope it continues. People need help and they don’t know where to go and here, I am sure others found guidance like I did.
NE Free Legal Answers (www.NE.FreeLegalAnswers.org)
NE Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic sponsored by the American Bar Association. VLP is the website administrator for Nebraska. Qualifying users can post a civil legal question for a response from a registered lawyer authorized to provide pro bono assistance in Nebraska. Lawyers provide limited advice and information. During the first 10 weeks after the program launched in October 2016, 70 lawyers registered to do pro bono service online and Nebraskans from 23 counties posted questions online.
Lawyers in the City
Created in 2016, volunteer lawyers, paralegals, paralegal students and law students meet with low-income residents at locations throughout the city. Modeled after the walk-in legal clinic, the program originated in Douglas County as a collaborative project with Legal Aid of Nebraska, the Midlands Bar Association and the Omaha Bar Association. Volunteers provide basic information about the courts, limited advice on select civil law matters, help with approved court forms, and onsite intake for legal aid service providers. In April and August 2016, volunteers helped more than 83 walk-in visitors in Omaha.
They help me with legal advice…I don’t know about the law so it’s a blessing to have the legal lawyers come down to the community to give out the knowledge what they study for many years ago in college…thank you I appreciate the support.
VLP Automated Information Line
VLP manages an information line at (402) 742-8136. During 2016, more than 5,000 callers received helpful information about VLP programs, legal aid service providers, and legal resources available for Nebraska residents.
Applicants for pro bono services have a life story
- an abused spouse who needs court protection to end an abusive relationship
- children who need financial support from a noncustodial parent
- a single-parent longing to be involved in his or her child’s life
- a vulnerable adult needing stability and security
- an individual needing relief from overwhelming debt and wage garnishment
- a senior citizen wanting peace of mind his or her affairs are in order
VLP depends on grants and generous donations for its support. Its success depends on two things: volunteers—and financial support.
The increasing number of Nebraskans living in poverty places an enormous strain on VLP programs. Without more volunteers and increased financial support, VLP can help only a small percentage of the people who look to it for help. Volunteers and generous donations will help VLP expand its ability to address the increasing number of unmet legal needs.
Thank you for your support of VLP programs.
For more information about volunteer opportunities or to volunteer, contact Carol Cleaver at VLP@nebar.com or (402) 475-7091.