As our nation faces continued economic uncertainty and underfunded legal services programs threaten access to justice, it is more important than ever for us to do what is right as lawyers. Pro bono work reminds us of why we became lawyers in the first place.
Every day, pro bono lawyers provide access to justice for thousands of Mississippians. Many of those lawyers choose to provide pro bono service by volunteering with the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project (MVLP). Formed in 1982, MVLP represents the nation’s first formal association of a state bar association and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Even before completing its first year of operation, MVLP was recognized by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association as the country’s single most outstanding program among state bar associations.
Prospective MVLP clients are thoroughly screened by MVLP to determine whether they qualify for MVLP’s services. If a potential client is deemed eligible for the program’s services, the client is matched with a volunteer attorney who will represent him or her on behalf of MVLP. MVLP clients have legal matters in the following areas: uncontested divorces, emancipations, simple wills, adoptions, guardianships, name changes, birth certificate corrections, child support contempt matters, child support modifications, conservatorships and visitation matters.
MVLP provides clients with free legal services through direct representation, legal clinics, community outreach workshops and other programs. MVLP carries professional liability insurance on all volunteers who provide any of these services to MVLP clients. It is important to MVLP that attorneys not be precluded from volunteering because of liability concerns. MVLP acknowledges that a number of its volunteers do not regularly practice in the area of domestic relations. To support volunteers with handling cases outside of their general practice areas, and with the help of thirteen Jackson Metro area firms, MVLP developed a Pro Bono Attorney Manual which provides substantive outlines, sample pleadings and other case documents in bound or electronic form. MVLP also developed a Pro Bono Attorney Guide which steps volunteers through every phase of pro bono representation with the organization.
MVLP hosts a number of CLE workshops and attorney training sessions across the state throughout the year. These sessions are provided for free or at very low cost to attorneys who volunteer with MVLP. MVLP also recognizes the important contributions of the attorneys who volunteer with awards and other public acknowledgements. MVLP is so grateful to its volunteers for the sacrifices they make to change the lives of those in need. Without the contributions and support of volunteers and partners, MVLP could not have reached out to so many Mississippians in the broader effort to ensure equal access to justice for all.
To volunteer with MVLP, view a list of upcoming events, review MVLP’s open cases, or make a financial contribution to the organization, please visit MVLP’s website at www.mvlp.net.
Tiffany M. Graves is the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. To volunteer with MVLP, email Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 601–960-9577.