PCBA's President's Message
First, I want to thank the membership of the Peoria County Bar Association for providing me this unique opportunity to serve as President for 2012-2013. I have always been proud to be an active member of this Association, and we do have much to be proud of. We have a strong CLE program, an enthusiastic Young Lawyers Committee, a sensitivity to diversity within our bar association, and the celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the Peoria County Pro Bono Plan. Having said this, I believe that it is important at this time in our history to build upon and enhance our involvement in our community.
I would like to emphasize four initiatives for this upcoming year, and I am asking each member to join me in carrying out these initiatives.
I. Increasing the membership of the Peoria County Bar Association and participation on the committees and special events In recent years, we have seen a steady decline in participation of committees and special events hosted by the Peoria County Bar Association. When I arrived to practice in peoria in 1990, it was not even an option to join or not join the Peoria County Bar Association and participate in its special events. It was expected, and I, as a young lawyer, wanted to join this organization. I believe that we need to be intentional in our approach in asking members of private law firms, government and public interest lawyers and solo practitioners to join our association and become active members. Rather than thinking of benefits of membership to the bar association, let's impart to the prospective members a need for their assistance. It is true that we are all busy with our practices and families, but the future vitality of the Peoria County Bar Association rests with our involvement.
II. Special Committee entitled "Government and Public Interest Law Committee" I would like to establish a Special Committee entitled "Government and Public Interest Law Committee." This committee will include lawyers working in the offices of state's attorney, public defender (for both the state and federal government), attorney general, Social Security Administration, National Labor Relations Board, DCFS, municipal prosecutors, guardianship and advocacy, and legal aid. This committee will provide a forum for lawyers in these areas to network and address issues unique to their practice. I would request that this committee establish an annual award entitled "Public Servant Award" which recognizes the extraordinary effort and advocacy of a lawyer in the public interest area who is an "unsung hero." This award will be presented to the recipient at the Annual Meeting each year, beginning in 2013.
III. Cultural Sensitivity We are fortunate that the Peoria County Bar Association has taken an intentional approach in recent years to address diversity concerns. I would ask that we further our approach to address an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant in our justice system. Each of us needs to be sensitive to the issues of clients that we represent and those who come before the Court as litigants with respect to ethnic, class and cultural backgrounds. To that end, I would propose that the Diversity and CLE Committee examine the possibility of including cultural sensitivity training as part of CLE presentations in the upcoming year.
IV. Equal Access Initiative: Pro Bono Finally, it may come as no surprise that one of my greatest concerns is equal access to the courts. In my prior life as a legal services attorney, and now as a judge, there are countless individuals who maneuver through the court system without legal representation because they do not have the income and resources necessary to retain a private attorney. In criminal and juvenile matters, a public defender can be appointed. However, there is no such guarantee for individuals faced with a civil dispute. Just imagine the intimidation of representing yourself in court without legal training and listening to legal lingo that sounds like a foreign language. The reality is that in the civil courtrooms a vast number are unrepresented and fail in their attempts to successfully advocate their positions.
In Peoria, we have just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Peoria County Pro Bono Plan, the joint effort of the Peoria County Bar Association and Prairie State Legal Services. The Peoria County Bar Association is a recipient of the John McAndrews Award from the Illinois State Bar Association. The need for pro bono is even greater than it was in 1982. The combination of the following factors: declining revenue to legal services programs, our country's economic recession, an increase in the poverty population which includes the working poor, leads me to conclude that the need for attorneys to respond by doing pro bono work is even more urgent. There is no doubt that the legal challenges faced by our community's most vulnerable groups, including veterans, low-income family and children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, is alive and ever present in our own community.
So herein lies the Equal Access Initiative. I am asking that each member of the Peoria County Bar Association take a very simple and yet profound step to address this concern for Equal Access to our justice system. The step is this: each member of the Peoria County Bar Association will agree to accept at least one case for pro bono legal representation as a direct referral through the Peoria County Pro Bono Plan. If each attorney represents at least one client during the 2012-2013 PCBA fiscal year, at least 600 who would otherwise be unrepresented, will be served. Here are some ways that you and our membership can provide pro bono service: direct representation of a client; participation in a divorce clinic, wills and powers of attorney clinic, and/or an expungement panel. If you would like to provide training in a substantive area of the law for pro bono attorneys, this could count as pro bono service. Training in substantive areas can be offered to those who seek to do pro bono, and malpractice insurance coverage is provided through Prairie State Legal Services. The Peoria County Bar Association, through the pro bono committee, also has a conflicts panel. There is always a need for attorneys to volunteer to accept a case through the conflicts panel, as well.
As we have reaped the benefits of becoming a licensed lawyer in the State of Illinois, we also have accepted the responsibility to uphold the tenets of our profession. One important way to carry out this responsibility is by providing pro bono legal services to those less fortunate. Aristotle was quoted as saying that "any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest and most helpless or vulnerable citizens -- the last, the least, the littlest." It is my hope that when you are called to serve in this capacity, you will say yes to this important way of service to the legal profession, our bar association and our justice system.