On Thursday, February 21, 2013, the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission celebrated the strides that have been made in pro bono service with the Pro Bono Initiative Program. In addition to recognizing those who have helped foster pro bono services in Hawaii, the program was also a call out to local attorney to continue to give back to those who need legal services, but cannot afford them.
The program recognized individuals and firms who have volunteered to man the Access to Justice Room in 2013. Various organizations at which attorneys can volunteer were also hightlighted, including Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaii, Business Law Corps, Hawaii Disability Rights Center, Domestic Violence Action Center, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, The Mediation Center of the Pacific, and U.H. Elder Law Clinic. Each of these organization have a variety of ways that we can give our time (a little or a lot) to those in need.
HAWSCT Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald provided remarks, and has given us permission to repost them here:
Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald
Pro Bono Initiative Day: Partnerships in Justice
February 21, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
Aloha and good afternoon everyone. On behalf of my colleagues on the Hawaii Supreme Court, welcome to Aliiolani Hale. I want to begin by thanking our Access to Justice Commission, particularly its Chair, Judge Dan Foley, and his predecessor, Justice Simeon Acoba, for their leadership and dedication. I also wanted to thank the Pro Bono Initiative Task Force for making today’s event a reality: Co-Chairs Carol Muranaka and Justice Acoba; and members, Rex Fujichaku, Jill Hasegawa, Judge Ronald Ibarra, Regan Iwao, Dew Kaneshiro, Judge Barbara Richardson, Kristin Shigemura, Audrey Stanley, and Tracey Wiltgen.
A recent report by the Pro Bono Task Force of the Legal Services Corporation noted that there has been “an explosion” in the demand for legal services within the past several years. The Task Force determined that in the United States, the number of people qualifying for civil legal assistance -- those that cannot afford to hire an attorney -- has increased by over 10 million since 2007. Hawaii, too, has seen an increase in the need for civil legal assistance. Here on Oahu, for example, we had more than 4,000 divorce cases filed last year -– in nearly 60% of them, neither party had an attorney, and in an additional 26%, only one party had legal counsel.
Since its creation in 2008, the Access to Justice Commission has made significant strides in making the civil legal system in Hawaii more accessible. One of the Commission’s most successful initiatives has been increasing pro bono service, both by encouraging attorneys to volunteer, and by providing increased opportunities for them to do so. The Commission has moved forward on several different fronts, including soliciting pro bono commitments from law firms and individuals, adopting model pro bono policies, recommending specific rule changes, and partnering with stakeholders to open self-help centers in our courts, where attorneys volunteer their time to provide information about court procedures to those individuals who cannot afford an attorney and who therefore have to represent themselves. The first such center was opened in our courthouse on Kauai in the fall of 2011. Since then, we’ve opened centers in Hilo, Wailuku, at our family court in Kapolei, and at district court in Honolulu, where it is known as the Access to Justice Room.
We now have self-help centers operating in every circuit of the state. In two short years, we’ve established a network of centers from Hilo to Lihue providing information and assistance to people whose voices might not otherwise be heard. Many different organizations and individuals–the Hawaii State Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Americorps, the neighbor island bar associations, and the many attorneys who have generously donated their time–came together to make those centers a reality. So far, we’ve been able to help more than 1,000 people, at almost no cost to the public.
There is a simple lesson to be drawn from this experience—never underestimate the power of a group of people who are committed to an idea and are willing to work to achieve it. We’ve seen it in the self-help centers, and we’ve seen it over and over again in Hawaii in recent years as attorneys have stepped up to do what’s right by providing pro bono service in a variety of different contexts. We need to keep that momentum going, which is why it is particularly gratifying that so many firms and individuals have already stepped up to commit to staffing the Access to Justice Room at Honolulu district court for the coming year. On behalf of the judiciary, I extend our deep appreciation to each of them, as well as to those individuals who have been volunteering at the center since it opened last summer, for their commitment and leadership.
Although we have made progress on many fronts, there is much work left to be done. In addition to the self-help centers, there are many other opportunities for pro bono service in our community. You will be hearing today from a number of different legal services providers about the programs they offer, and how you might be able to help. I urge each of the attorneys here who have not yet committed to provide pro bono service this year to listen to those presentations, talk with the providers, find the right opportunity, and make the commitment to help out.
In closing, this is a time of great innovation and promise for the cause of access to justice in Hawaii. Although the challenges are great, we have amazing people who have stepped up and worked together to meet the need. It is because of that dedication that we can continue to make significant strides forward. Once again, thank you all for attending today’s event, thanks to the firms and attorneys that are being honored here today, and thanks to the legal services providers for all of their extraordinary work.
Aloha and mahalo.