Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Economists are saying the recession is either ending or has already ended, but that is not yet evident in the waiting rooms of agencies that provide free legal services to people with low incomes.
Legal assistance agencies are working hard to help people in multiple ways, but they cannot adequately keep up with the demand. Their waiting rooms are now always full and often overflowing.
This is because the same economy that has wrought unprecedented foreclosures and double-digit unemployment has also rendered many attorneys, who in the recent past consistently donated many hours of free service, less able to do so.
Brian Wargo, a reporter for In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun, wrote last week about the scope of this problem. Among those he interviewed was Lynn Etkins, a director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
“It is overwhelming,” Etkins told Wargo, “Our lobby is filled with clients ranging from victims of domestic violence to people losing their homes and jobs.” Of the center’s staff, Etkins said, “We are swamped and everybody has a maximum caseload. We do not see any letup with the economic crisis so far as clients are concerned.”
At Nevada Legal Services, Wargo talked with Executive Director AnnaMarie Johnson, who said, “With the economy, the number of people coming through our doors is skyrocketing.” At the Senior Citizens Law Project, which assists people ages 60 and older, Director Susan Vogel said many clients are victims of financial scams or elder abuse. “In these tough times, we are more concerned than ever because they (the seniors) are in danger,” she said.
The attorneys who are donating their services are performing a valuable public service. Our hope is that active and retired attorneys who are not now regularly donating a few hours of their time will consider doing so. The bad economy has made thousands of people desperate and every minute of a lawyer’s time would help ease their difficulties.