AK Legal Services assists the needy

Statewide nonprofit provides free legal counsel on civil cases

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004

John Black was down on his luck last October when he was kicked out of his apartment and lost his job at the same time.

A former employer promised him to pay for his rent in exchange for his labor, but didn't cover the rent and paid him only $500 every two weeks for his full-time work, Black said. When he confronted the employer, he lost the apartment and the job.

"I had to move back to the Glory Hole and started all over again," Black, 41, said. "I didn't want to get on welfare. That should go to people who really need it. I can eat at the shelter."

But thanks to Alaska Legal Services, Black received free legal representation and almost $7,000 in compensation. He said he appreciates the hard work of the lawyers from the Alaska Legal Services.

Alaska Legal Services

How to contact it locally:

• Location: 419 Sixth St., Suite 322.

• Phone number: 586-6425 or (800) 789-64266.

• For more information: Visit www.alsc-law.org.

"They never blew me off," said Black, who got a new apartment and works at Subway full time. "They never told me that they were too busy to talk to me."

Alaska Legal Services Corp. is a nonprofit founded in 1966 to provide free legal services throughout the state to people who cannot afford a lawyer. It has offices in Anchorage, Bethel, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kotzbue and Nome.

The Juneau office has 30 to 50 cases at any given time, said Kate Burkhart, supervising attorney of Alaska Legal Services.

"In 2004, we have had 512 new cases and we have closed 510 cases," Burkhart said.

The corporation provides only civil legal assistance. The most common cases involve domestic violence, housing issues, public benefits, family law, Native allotments, wills and senior issues.

"We take a holistic approach," Burkhart said. "We work with other agencies, such as AWARE, the Food Bank and St. Vincent de Paul Family Center. We all serve the same folks."

To be eligible for the organization's services, a client's personal income cannot exceed the federal poverty guidelines. The organization also serves Native Americans and people 60 and older regardless of income.

Many lawyers are willing to do pro bono work for the organization because it serves the most needy population.

"You can really help make a difference in people's lives," said David Newman, a 29-year-old Juneau lawyer who has volunteered since last July. "There is a real shortage of lawyers in Alaska that are willing to take pro bono family law cases."

If the organization cannot accept a case, staff will refer people to other programs, such as the Lawyer Referral Service and the Family Law Self-help Center.

"In addition to full representation, we have done a lot of outreach," Burkhart said. "We try to empower people through education and information so they can solve problems themselves.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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