The Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) is the active pro bono component of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri’s (LSEM) mission to provide free civil legal assistance to low-income people in our community.
Since 1982, the VLP and its legion of pro bono attorneys have provided pro bono civil legal assistance to thousands of low-income and elderly individuals in our region in critical need of legal help.
VLP History and Mission
The VLP is dedicated to pairing those who cannot afford legal counsel with volunteer attorneys who can assist clients as they navigate the legal system and safeguard their most basic rights as a step toward achieving economic self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.
LSEM is the primary provider of legal services to low-income people in Eastern Missouri. Unfortunately, while the number of requests for assistance rises every year, the size of our staff of attorneys and advocates has not increased to match demand. The availability of legal assistance to people in need is, therefore, increasingly dependent on the involvement of private volunteer attorneys.
To address this problem, LSEM and the organized bar developed the VLP almost 30 years ago to assist with the legal needs of low-income individuals in our region. The VLP now serves more than 500 clients and their families every year and enjoys the commitment of more than 1,400 volunteer panel attorneys to provide these essential services.
The VLP operates by matching eligible clients with attorneys on our volunteer panel. Most volunteers have offered to accept between one and three cases every year in an area of law they individually designate, but volunteers always retain control over the number of cases they accept, the types of cases they accept and whether they can accept a case at all.
Even if your practice does not allow you to undertake direct representation of a client at this time, you can help by making presentations to homeless and senior citizen groups, by providing legal advice at the LSEM office or on a walk-in basis at VLP outreach centers or simply by recruiting your friends and associates.
Why Get Involved?
As a volunteer attorney, you can make a significant a difference in the life of a client facing challenging legal issues. And you can make this difference in a very manageable investment of time!
Check out these TOP TEN REASONS TO DO PRO BONO WORK and join our panel today.
Amy White meets with her LSEM clients at the St. Louis County Courthouse in 2012. Photo courtesy of Karen Elshout & Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
“I support LSEM through the Volunteer Lawyers Program because it helps to meet a tremendous need for people in our community who could not otherwise access legal representation.”
What Types of Cases are Referred?
All of the cases referred by the VLP are for clients who meet Legal Services of Eastern Missouri’s financial eligibility guidelines and substantive priorities – in other words, these are all cases where significant legal rights are at stake for individuals and families who could not hope to afford the services of an attorney.
Our cases are all civil matters and are most commonly in the following areas:
• Landlord-Tenant Disputes
• Family Law (Orders of Protection, Dissolution, Paternity, Custody and Child Support)
• Unemployment Compensation
• Child & Adult Guardianship
• Consumer Law
What Type of Support Does VLP Provide to Volunteer Attorneys
The VLP is your partner as you get involved in cases with our program.
Before the Case:
• The VLP offers an array of free, substantive training, with CLE credit, to volunteer lawyers on topics implicated in our case referrals.
• All Clients are pre-screened for income eligibility and probable legal merit.
• The VLP provides a comprehensive factual and procedural summary of the case and gathers all information, documents and evidence possible prior to referral.
During the Case:
• The VLP and LSEM staff attorneys are always available for consultation on specific legal or client-related inquiries during the representation.
• You are covered under Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's Legal Malpractice policy.
• You are provided with a Certification of Inability to Pay Costs when appropriate.
• The VLP offers its research, secretarial and office resources when needed.
• You have access to all LSEM legal forms and templates appropriate to the case type.
After the Case:
• The VLP will reimburse expenses incurred during the representation (ask our staff for specifics).
• You can provide feedback to the VLP regarding the pro bono experience and future case acceptance preferences.
• You will receive credit from the VLP for any law firm or bar association pro bono reporting.
How Do I join the Volunteer Lawyers Program?
When you join the VLP, you control:
• The number of cases accepted each year
• The type of cases accepted
• When and whether a specific case is accepted
• Acceptance of any case depends on your interest and availability.
- To join the Volunteer Lawyers Program, please open the attached enrollment form by clicking here.
- To open a printable pdf version of the VLP brochure, please click here.
Please contact Patti Hageman, Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Program, with any questions about your involvement.