For more than two decades, federally funded legal services programs single-handedly provided representation in civil cases to those with little or no income. However, in 1982 the Legal Services Corporation experienced a twenty-five percent decrease in federal funds, inevitably resulting in massive staff reductions at the legal services programs it funds and, in some cases, the elimination of programs. Faced with the inability to continue meeting the needs of clients, legal services programs across the country turned to attorneys in the private sector for help.
In an attempt to sustain services in our community, the local legal services program, Legal Aid of Western Missouri (Legal Aid), with the support of bar associations throughout its service area, created the Volunteer Attorney Project (VAP). The concept was to coordinate an effort with private attorneys who were willing to donate their time and experience to those in need. As hoped, the idea and collaboration have succeeded and as a result, eligible residents of western Missouri may now receive free legal assistance from attorneys in private practice.
Clients assisted through the Volunteer Attorney Project are referred by your local Legal Aid office.
Through VAP, each year more than hundreds of area residents receive pro bono (free) legal counsel or representation for problems involving: consumer law, such as unfair sales practices, contract disputes and bankruptcy; dissolutions of marriage (divorces) and other family law matters; housing issues, from landlord-tenant disputes to real estate; governmental benefits, including Social Security and unemployment compensation; and various other civil legal matters. Clients are initially screened and interviewed by Legal Aid staff, who first determine whether the case comes within Legal Aid’s case priorities and is suitable for referral to the VAP program. When a case is referred to VAP, it is placed with an attorney whose interest and area of expertise match our client’s needs. This helps to insure that clients receive the highest quality of service.
In Kansas City
The Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, the Lawyers Association of Kansas City and the Kansas City Bar Foundation co-sponsor the project serving residents of Jackson, Clay and Platte counties. VAP in Kansas City began operation in 1982 with an initial enrollment of 46 attorneys. Today, in addition to the over one thousand individual attorneys participating, dozens of law firms and in-house corporate counsel have joined VAP’s panel of volunteers. Each year these volunteers deliver services to hundreds of Kansas City area residents.
In Northwest Missouri
Serving the counties of Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Caldwell, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Linn, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway, Putnam, Sullivan and Worth is the Northwest Missouri VAP (NWMVAP). Co-sponsored by the St. Joseph Bar Association, this program has operated through Legal Aid’s St. Joseph Office since 1984. Presently, 77 attorneys have agreed to provide services through the project and annually donate approximately 100 hours of legal services.
In Southwest Missouri
The VAP program serving the counties of Barton, Bates, Jasper, McDonald, Newton and Vernon is coordinated through Legal Aid’s Joplin Office. Currently 3 area attorneys are enrolled in the project. The majority of cases referred through the Southwest Missouri Volunteer Attorney Project (SWMVAP) involve family law issues, including dissolutions of marriage and child custody. Additionally, to address the great need for dissolutions of marriage, the project provides assistance through Pro Se Dissolution (do-it-yourself) classes.
In West Central Missouri
The Warrensburg Office of Legal Aid coordinates the West Central Missouri Volunteer Attorney Project (WCMVAP) serving Benton, Camden, Carroll, Cass, Henry, Hickory, Johnson, Lafayette, Morgan, Pettis, Ray, St. Clair and Saline counties. Co-sponsored by the Johnson County Bar, this program provides representation to clients in a wide range of legal matters. More than 30 area attorneys have accepted referrals through this program.
AAN PROJECT – The Adopt-A-Neighborhood Project (AAN) works in targeted low-income urban core neighborhoods in Kansas City. Since 2015, AAN staff and volunteer attorneys have worked with neighborhood associations to obtain abandoned and blighted properties under the Abandoned Housing Act. In addition to assisting with vacant property issues, AAN and its volunteer attorneys help individuals, neighborhood associations, and other nonprofit organizations address other legal issues that affect the overall well being of their community.
EDUCATION PROJECT – The project offers pro bono legal representation to families with children who are struggling in the educational system. Pro bono participants work with children and school administration to ensure the right to a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although many protections exist in the law, without an advocate, children can go for years without the services to which they are entitled, diminishing their chances for success later in life. The goal of the project is to help children receive the educational services they need to succeed.
JUSTICE IN THE HALLS (TENANT LEGAL HELP CLINIC) – The clinic provides pro bono legal advice for low-income tenants facing eviction in Jackson County at the Kansas City Courthouse. The clinics are held Thursday afternoon from 12:45 until 3:00 pm on the 7th floor of the Courthouse. Services include advice for tenants with eviction related issues, help in answering eviction proceedings as well as offering referral and resource information.
JUSTICE IN THE SCHOOLS CLINIC – The legal clinic defends families of KCPS students against wrongful evictions to prevent homelessness and keep students in their current school. The clinic also helps KCPS families with many other legal issues that negatively affect student attendance.
LOW INCOME TAXPAYER CLINIC ATTORNEY PANEL – This project offers pro bono assistance to low income taxpayers in resolving their controversies with the IRS. Our project director screens the cases and then passes them on to the volunteer attorneys. Often, a problem with the IRS is the most frightening issue a low-income taxpayer has faced. Attorneys help with issues such as getting levies released from social security benefits, submitting Offers in Compromise to settle the IRS debt, or assisting victims of domestic violence in obtaining Innocent Spouse relief from a joint tax debt with their batterer.
PRO BONO PROGRAM FOR BANKRUPTCY LITIGATION – Offers legal representation to eligible clients who have been sued in an adverse action in response to their bankruptcy filing. The cases provide an excellent opportunity for litigators and for those wanting court room experience.
PRO SE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE CLINICS – Through the project participants receive step-by-step classroom instruction on how to represent themselves in obtaining their dissolution of marriage. To be eligible, participants must meet financial guidelines, are not in dispute with spouse regarding child custody and own no real property to be divided.
SECOND SEASON AT LAW (SSAL) – Second Season at Law is our emeritus pro bono panel of attorneys. From advice clinics to direct representation of eligible individuals or groups, this specially designed program allows retired and semi-retired attorneys to choose when, where and in what capacity they will provide pro bono assistance. Volunteers may work from home, office with Legal Aid staff or at UMKC Law School
TRANSACTIONAL LAW PROJECT – The Transactional Law Project provides free legal assistance to qualified non-profit agencies that serve persons who are homeless or persons with diagnosable mental health issues. Some of these organizations are distracted from their mission by legal problems that the organizations themselves face. The project is designed to strengthen these service-providing organizations by solving their legal needs (so organizations can focus on their clients’ needs). Legal services offered include: incorporation as not-for-profit, contract review/negotiations, regulatory compliance and other business law matters.
UMKC-LEGAL AID OF WESTERN MISSOURI SELF-HELP LAW CLINIC – Our newest project kicked off in February 2019 at the Leon E. Bloch Law Library of the University of Missouri –Kansas City School of Law. The Clinic provides limited scope representation to individuals seeking legal assistance. The collaboration between the law school and VAP the clinic has the resources to assist the general public with a vast array of legal issues. Legal assistance is provided by retired and semi retired attorneys and judges who participate in VAP’s Second Season at Law Project.