Commentary: Free legal help is a call away this Friday
By Janet Ward Black
For the Salisbury Post
I am a lawyer. I run into people almost every day ó at the coffee shop, on the street, at the grocery store ó who are in need a little advice about a legal problem, and I’m happy to try to answer their questions or put them on the right path to get help.
Do you actually know a lawyer? If so, you are not the typical North Carolinian. Of the almost 9 million citizens of our state, only 22,000 are lawyers. The overwhelming majority of North Carolinians do not know a lawyer to ask for help.
Almost 30 percent of North Carolinians live in poverty. Most have no place to turn when they need help with a legal matter. If a poor person is charged with a serious crime, the Constitution guarantees that person a right to a lawyer. But did you know that for civil, non-criminal matters, such as home foreclosures, domestic violence, or child custody, there is no “right” to a lawyer?
If a family loses its largest asset, its home, and falls into homelessness due to illegal practices of predatory lenders, it becomes an economic issue for the entire community. If the standard of living in the community is diminished, the revenue generated by the tax base is diminished, which, in turn, diminishes the availability of services to the entire community.
So, where can they turn? Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. provides legal services without charge to people living in poverty in every North Carolina county. But Legal Aid is able to employ only 150 lawyers across the state to address the legal needs of almost 3 million North Carolinians living in poverty.
This year, the North Carolina Bar Association is taking steps to educate its lawyer members, the legislature and the public about the critical need to support access to justice for the poor. This campaign is called 4ALL, echoing the closing words of our Pledge of Allegiance n “with liberty and justice for all.”
Friday is a red-letter day in the 4ALL campaign. On that day, more than 600 lawyer-volunteers will be staffing call centers across North Carolina. North Carolinians, regardless of economic status, can call toll-free anytime from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and talk directly to a North Carolina lawyer for free. You do not have to give your name or any contact information.
The toll free numbers are 1-800-289-0013; 1-866-616-4255; or 1-888-722-0407.
Do you have questions about child support, job rights when terminated, speeding tickets, incorporating a business, or writing a will or power of attorney? The NCBA, as a public service, wants to help you, your co-workers, or your neighbors. We invite you to talk to a lawyer on April 4 at no charge and with no strings attached.
Even the call is free.
Equal access to justice, in a system where the powerful and the powerless have equal rights, is a founding principle of our democracy. We need your help. Please share the call-in numbers with your friends, family, and neighbors. Lawyers all across North Carolina will be ready, willing, and honored to answer the call.
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Janet Ward Black is president of the North Carolina Bar Association.