Pro Bono News

No Right to Attorney in Civil Cases, But Free Aid Available (PA)

Saturday, November 02, 2019

No Right to Attorney in Civil Cases, But Free Aid Available

"HARRISBURG, PA. — Anyone who has watched "Law & Order" or any police drama knows that someone accused of a crime is guaranteed representation by a lawyer, regardless of the ability to pay.

That's not true in civil cases. In certain cases, such as child custody issues or landlord-tenant disputes, the guidance of a lawyer is sorely needed.

Nonetheless, legal help is available to those who need assistance. And too many people don't realize it, attorneys say.

During "Pro Bono Week," the Pennsylvania Bar Association, MidPenn Legal Services and other legal groups want people to know they offer programs to those who need a lawyer in civil cases. The term "pro bono" refers to legal work at no cost.

Corky Goldstein, a lawyer who has worked in central Pennsylvania for decades, is doing his part to spread the word. He helped start a legal aid program in Dauphin County 50 years ago.

"It is our responsibility to make sure or to try and make sure that the legal system is open to all people," said Goldstein. "If people don't have competent representation, they're at a disadvantage."

Many are unaware of the avenues to access legal aid.

One in six Pennsylvanians qualifies for free civil legal aid because of their income, according to MidPenn Legal Services, which provides assistance throughout central Pennsylvania. However, only 20 percent of low-income Pennsylvanians who have a legal problem are able to get help from any source, the group says.

MidPenn Legal Services, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, offers legal help in 18 counties.

"We continue to address the basic needs of food, housing, personal safety and income that stabilize families and enhances the quality of life for entire communities," Rhodia Thomas, executive director of MidPenn, said in a PennLive opinion piece this week.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association and county bar associations regularly hold workshops offering legal guidance on critical topics. Gov. Tom Wolf declared Oct. 20-26 Pro Bono Week in Pennsylvania, coinciding with a national observance to promote awareness of free legal services..."

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