Nobody goes into the civil legal services end of our profession to get rich or famous or even comfortable. Legal services lawyers do the work they do out of a deep appreciation for the immense needs of ordinary people and an abiding devotion to the ideal of equal justice.
The recent Wisconsin Equal Justice Conference at the State Bar Center brought together scores of lawyers working for or devoting time to legal services organizations and their clients. They heard some troubling news. Wisconsin, once a leader in supporting civil legal services for its neediest residents, has fallen well below the median from a funding standpoint. And most of the public funds devoted to those needs in Wisconsin come from federal funding of the Legal Services Corporation – funding that, as of this writing, is not ensured of being renewed in the federal budget.
Last month, the State Bar – adding its voice to hundreds of national, state, and local bars and lawyers nationwide – called on constituents to contact their legislators to urge Congress to save and fund the LSC.
But whatever happens, legal services lawyers are a tough bunch. They work against long odds and with heavy caseloads every day. The conference noted the challenges but focused on the opportunities. Inspired by presentations from Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, Dean Margaret Raymond of the U.W. Law School, Judge Everett Mitchell of Dane County, and Judge Rick Sankovitz of Milwaukee County, these lawyers spent the day working on ideas to continue and improve the services they provide.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
The State Bar of Wisconsin salutes the dedicated individuals in our association who are legal services lawyers. They are among the best of us.