CHARLESTON – About 200 attorneys volunteer their time with Legal Aid of West Virginia. They generously defend cases, offer consultations or help fill out forms pro bono.
In West Virginia, attorneys are not required to by the bar association to complete pro bono work every year, although the rules of ethics that attorneys follow indicate they should, said Kate White, attorney in charge of the pro bono program for Legal Aid of West Virginia.
“Most do it because they want to help,” White told The West Virginia Record. “It’s out of the genuine goodness of their heart.”
Some attorneys gain experience in an area they’re interested in practicing, White said.
“When someone takes a case, we will try to offer as much support as we can, so our staff can help mentor or connect attorneys with other attorneys and help them gain experience along the way,” she said.
Legal Aid of West Virginia assists men and women who fall within income guidelines, generally between 125 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level based upon household size.
“We work with single parents, couples, grandparents raising grandchildren, just a bit of everything,” White said. “There is a higher percentage of female clients, but we also help a significant number of male veterans.”
The casework varies, too, from landlord-tenant evictions, adoptions, divorces, custody cases, domestic violence cases, bankruptcies, IRS tax issues, consumer cases, drafting wills, writing deeds and property issues. To help, attorneys simply need to be licensed members of the West Virginia state bar and in good standing. They sign up to volunteer on the Legal Aid’s website, then White will reach out to them.
“We want to know what areas of law an attorney is interested in volunteering with, what parts of the state,” she said. “Some attorneys help teach a legal clinic for us, some offer counsel with our staff in areas of law where we don’t have a lot of expertise, others help write public information articles for our website.”
Attorneys volunteering at Legal Aid of West Virginia appreciate that the organization offers malpractice coverage if they accept a case or volunteer there.
“We also pay for expenses, like filing fees or getting an expert or deposition,” White said. “We also can offer reduced fees for some cases.”
Legal Aid of West Virginia was formed in 2002 after several different legal aid entities merged. White said there have been legal aid organizations in existence since the 1950s.