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Montana lawyers answer the call, help keep Self-Help Law Centers running for the year

Thursday, May 17, 2018   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Menden
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Earlier this year, the Montana Judicial Branch’s Court Self-Help Law Centers faced a dire predicament.

The Self-Help Law Centers rely heavily on AmeriCorps service members to provide legal guidance to self-represented litigants at six locations across the state. The centers’ users are oftentimes low-income Montanans who are unable to afford an attorney. But due to unexpected cost-of-living and other program cost increases, combined with the worsening budget constraints of our state government, the Montana Supreme Court and its partner Montana Legal Services Association were unable to meet the financial requirements necessary to maintain the current staffing level of AmeriCorps service members for the coming year.

This would not be a big deal to those of us lucky enough to have made our house payment and been able to buy groceries this month. But, it would be a huge setback for the thousands of Montanans who, but for these centers, would have little access to legal guidance, which is to say their legal rights would exist only in theory, and not in fact.

As incredible as it seems, Montana Legal Services Association’s Justice for Montanans AmeriCorps program provides the Court Self-Help Law Centers with seven AmeriCorps service members and related program coordination for just $69,000 a year! And since the Court Self-Help Law Centers’ inception in 2011, they have assisted Montanans with their legal needs more than 85,000 times!

The current crisis for the Court Self-Help Law Centers was averted when it was brought to the attention of the Montana Justice Foundation via a call for assistance by our Montana Supreme Court. As the request fell outside the established MJF grant cycle, and a decision as to whether funds could be made available was immediately required, a handful of lawyers undertook an email campaign to try to meet the need. We did this by taking advantage of professional and personal relationships each of us enjoy because we are privileged to practice in the Last Best Place. Together, we raised the funds needed, avoided the threatened loss of staffing, and returned peace to the valley – at least for the moment.

Those who were unlucky enough to be solicited and generous enough to respond are listed here:

  • ALPS
  • Ronald A. Bender
  • Bohyer, Erickson, Beaudette & Tranel P.C.
  • Tom Boone
  • Boone Karlberg P.C.
  • James A. Bowditch
  • Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven
  • Ashley Burleson
  • Cal Christian
  • Diane Conradi
  • Terry Cosgrove
  • Randy Cox
  • Crist, Krogh & Nord
  • Cromwell Law PLLC
  • Crowley Fleck
  • Lonnie Dale
  • Datsopolous, MacDonald & Lind
  • Edmiston & Colton
  • Falcon, Lester & Schaff, P.C.
  • Holly Franz
  • Gallatin County Bar Association
  • Gallik & Bremer
  • Grubbs Law Office
  • Paul Haffeman
  • Hartelius, Durocher & Winter
  • Hoyt & Blewett
  • Katherine Se June Kim Huso
  • Natasha Prinzing Jones
  • Joyce & MacDonald
  • Stuart Kellner
  • Lamb & Carey
  • Luinstra Law Office
  • Donald MacIntyre
  • Carey Matovich
  • Robert & Bonnie Minto
  • Murphy Law Firm
  • Bob Phillips
  • Reep, Bell, Laird & Jasper
  • Kim Schulke
  • Scott, Tokerud & McCarthy P.C.
  • Sheehy Law Firm
  • Scott M. Stearns
  • Steve Harman Law
  • Ward “Mick” Taleff
  • Tarlow, Stonecipher, Weamer & Kelly P.C.
  • Tom Towe
  • Mike Viscomi
  • Worden Thane

The campaign was very limited in scope, ad hoc, and ended when the shortfall was met. If no one contacted you to give, do not feel left out; your opportunity to make a difference is coming. The Montana Justice Foundation works year-round to strengthen legal aid as a critical component of vibrant, healthy, and successful communities through the generous donations of the legal community. Its annual campaign starting this summer will again provide all of us – as individuals, firms, agencies, and companies – with the opportunity to play our part in keeping our civil justice system working.

The consequences of the current reality are just beginning to be felt and we will all be called on to provide sustainable support going forward. Providing that support is an obligation held by those of us privileged to hold a law license and enjoy the benefits of our profession’s monopoly. We have a unique and singular responsibility to provide access to justice for all Montanans – not just those who can afford it. The Montana legal community’s heart is huge when it comes to meeting the needs of those who can’t afford legal representation. Together we must, can, and will meet that responsibility.

We are humbled and gratified by the immediate response to this need by our brothers and sisters in the Bar. On behalf of everyone involved – but most importantly those Montanans who will benefit directly from access to necessary help navigating the legal system (which hopefully someday will be available to all our friends and neighbors here in Montana) – THANK YOU! As Justice Bill Hunt said not so many years ago, “the best people I know are lawyers!”


Robert W. Minto Jr. says...
Posted Friday, May 18, 2018
Judge Hunt got it right -- "The best people I know are Lawyers." Thanks to all for making a difference when it really mattered.