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Recession Driving Need for Free Legal Work in Mississippi

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 25 Oct 2011 06:58pm | comments
Gee Ogletree.

Hard economic times are driving up the need for free attorney work in Mississippi. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that Mississippi lawyers are donating thousands of free hours but are still overwhelmed with cases.

In criminal courts citizens are guaranteed access to a lawyer....but there is no such guarantee in civil matters and stress from a long recession and years of high unemployment have greatly driven the need for pro bono legal work.

Tiffany Graves with the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project says her office is swamped with requests for legal work, much of it focusing on family law.

"We have a lot of divorces, unfortunately. We also handle guardianships, adoptions, birth certificate corrections and some expungment matters. We also do child support modification and child custody matters," Graves said.

The MVLP honored lawyers from around the state at a dinner in Jackson last night.

Gee Ogletree donated more than 200 hours of pro bono work in the last year...mainly working with real estate law.....He says unemployment has pushed a more families into poverty, making more Mississippians eligible for free legal services.

"There are just more people who are either unemployed or don't have the financial resources that they had in the past, so that makes the need go up. Of course, our state starts off with a very significant need because of the percentage of poor people that we have in our state...we have a very significant percentage in our state," Ogletree said.

Second year law student Kate Morgan left a career as a music teacher to pursue a law degree.

Morgan thinks the pro bono work is a chance replace the positive feeling and influence she had as a teacher.

"It goes back to that whole idea of how important it is to be invested in your community and making it a better place. I think having the skills to invest in your community in a pro bono way as a lawyer is an important aspect for any attorney, no matter what field you are going to be in," Morgan said.

Lawyers in Mississippi are not required to do pro bono work...however, the state bar highly encourages the work and requires them to report the number of free hours they perform each year.



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