Vermont Bar Journal
Fall 2008 - #17.
Clinically Speaking: Two Counties'Approaches to Pro Bono Service
The Vermont Bar Journal #175, Volume 34, No. 3 FALL 2008
Clinically Speaking: Two Counties'Approaches to Pro Bono Serviceby Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.
Franklin County Bar Association Legal Clinic
It's Friday afternoon in the hallway of Franklin Superior Court, a venerable red brick building on the green in St. Albans City. Although court is not in session, several people are waiting on benches outside the clerk's office, murmuring to each other, or silently reading posted notices.
The arrival of an attorney causes a brief stir. Notes are checked, names are called, and one by one, clients enter a small conference room for their twenty minutes of free legal help.
This is the Franklin County Bar Association's Legal Clinic, a pro bono project started in September of 1994 and continuing in operation each Friday afternoon.
Jim Pelkey, clerk of the superior court and an attorney himself, estimates that there are fifteen attorneys regularly serving in the advice clinic. Two volunteer attorneys sign up for separate one-hour blocks each Friday, and handle a maximum of three consultations each, for a total of six clients seen every week.
Clients must sign up in advance of the clinic. The superior court staff provides the one-page form requesting information on the nature the case or legal matter, opposing party and attorney(s) involved, if any. The forms are sent to that week's pro bono clinic attorneys for conflicts checks in advance of the Friday sessions. Then the court staff assigns three clients to arrive at 1 p.m. and a second set of three at 2 p.m. This clustering of clients prevents lost attorney time if one or two clients are late or fail to show up for the appointment. To avoid "frequent flyers," a recently instituted clinic rule limits the clients to two visits in a two-month period.
The clinic resources are available to Franklin County residents regardless of their financial circumstance or legal issue involved. Some clients take advantage of the time to have the clinic attorney review and explain a legal document, or describe the process in a court proceeding. Other clients receive referrals to state agencies, non-profit programs, Law Line and Legal Aid, or the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project. Under clinic...