CHARLESTON – Over the last three years, more than 50 law firms and 237 individual donors have given or pledged more than $800,000 to ensure that low-income West Virginians have access to legal representation through Legal Aid of West Virginia.
The Campaign for Legal Aid was co-chaired by Charleston attorneys Al Emch and Scott Segal.
"I think what is impressive is that the state's legal community heeded the campaign's call for on-going support of Legal Aid of West Virginia," said Segal of The Segal Law Firm. "The generous response from the Bar makes me proud to be a lawyer."
Emch of Jackson Kelly PLLC said Legal Aid attorneys "do the work that many of us want to do but can't."
"They have just 37 attorneys working statewide, helping people who have no place else to turn solve their everyday legal problems," he said. "Legal Aid provides real access to the legal system for low-income West Virginians."
Segal and Emch worked with a statewide committee of about 25 lawyers to raise money for the three-year campaign that concluded in December.
Still, demand for Legal Aid services outstrips the organization's ability to provide services, according to a release from the group.
In a national survey of legal aid programs for two months this past spring, it was documented that for every client served by a federally funded legal aid program, at least one person who sought help was turned down because of insufficient resources.
The study also noted that a small percentage (one in five or less) of the legal problems experienced by low-income people are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
In West Virginia, there are more than 316,000 low-income residents eligible for Legal Aid's services. With their 37 lawyers, that equals a ratio of one attorney for every 8,540 low-income residents.
Legal Aid's legal staff works to stabilize client incomes, keep people in their homes, combat consumer fraud and prevent family violence. Other staff members advocate for the needs of the elderly and disabled who live in long-term care facilities and state mental health facilities.
Last year, Legal Aid handled more than 7,400 cases statewide, helping more than 18,000 clients and their families.
Legal Aid received federal and state funds, support from United Ways in Kanawha, Harrison, Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties as well as donations from individuals and law firms.
"We are grateful to the lawyers around the state who have made an ongoing commitment to support us," said Adrienne Worthy, Legal Aid's executive director. "With their dollars, we were able to annually fund work for 500 clients who otherwise would not have been served."
Charleston attorney Charles M. Love III and Morgantown attorney Allen N. Karlin are leading Legal Aid's fundraising efforts in 2006.
Legal Aid has 11 regional offices located in Charleston, Beckley, Clarksburg, Huntington, Lewisburg, Logan, Martinsburg, Parkersburg, Princeton, Westover and Wheeling.
For more information about local services and programs of Legal Aid of West Virginia, contact the Charleston office at 343-4481.