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The recent promulgation of a mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirement for Connecticut attorneys—and the issuance of the Report of the Task Force to Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters, submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly—present the bar with an opportunity to respond to the need for pro bono legal assistance to low-income individuals in at least two areas involving essential human needs that do not require significant commitments of lawyers’ time: domestic violence, and summary process eviction actions.

Applications for temporary restraining orders in domestic violence cases are granted ex parte, but are effective for only 14 days, at which time respondents are entitled to a judicial hearing before the protective order can be extended. In most cases, the applicant appears pro se and must present evidence that complies with fairly specific statutory requirements, while challenging the testimony of his or her abuser. For that reason, extension of temporary restraining orders is often denied for failure to provide sufficient evidence.

As the task force report notes, “83% of victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a restraining order, as compared to just 32% of victims without an attorney.” The report explains that domestic violence cases are challenging for applicants, and can be emotionally and legally difficult for most survivors who lack the assistance of counsel. Applicants tend to assume that the judge will simply rely on what they wrote in their applications and supporting affidavit, without their testifying to those facts under oath. An attorney will prepare the applicant to testify, assure that all of the factual allegations in the application and affidavit are proven, and cross-examine the respondent. The hearing will take about one hour, or less.

A CLE program on the law and practice of domestic violence protective order applications would prepare an attorney to represent an applicant effectively, and would serve as an incentive to provide pro bono representation in such cases.

Similarly, summary process proceedings in housing court involve an essential human need: housing. Yet the majority (two-thirds) of tenants facing eviction are poor and face homelessness without the assistance of counsel to represent them. Experienced tenant representatives—primarily legal services attorneys—report that, without the assistance of counsel, such tenants are not aware of available legal defenses to eviction, and are not able to give, or compel, essential relevant testimony or other evidence necessary for their defense.

A CLE program on the law and practice of summary process eviction proceedings would prepare an attorney to represent tenants effectively, both in the mandatory mediation with a housing specialist—and, if necessary, in an adversary hearing—without a major investment of time.

Domestic violence protective order proceedings and summary process eviction proceedings are but two examples of cases involving essential human needs in which the majority of low income parties are unable to afford legal representation. An attorney who has taken a CLE program in either or both of those areas of practice would be in a position to provide pro bono representation to needy litigants on these essential matters. We urge attorneys, whatever their areas of practice, to sign up for CLE programs that would prepare them to take on these, and other, pro bono cases. •

The recent promulgation of a mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirement for Connecticut attorneys—and the issuance of the Report of the Task Force to Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters, submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly—present the bar with an opportunity to respond to the need for pro bono legal assistance to low-income individuals in at least two areas involving essential human needs that do not require significant commitments of lawyers’ time: domestic violence, and summary process eviction actions.

Applications for temporary restraining orders in domestic violence cases are granted ex parte, but are effective for only 14 days, at which time respondents are entitled to a judicial hearing before the protective order can be extended. In most cases, the applicant appears pro se and must present evidence that complies with fairly specific statutory requirements, while challenging the testimony of his or her abuser. For that reason, extension of temporary restraining orders is often denied for failure to provide sufficient evidence.

As the task force report notes, “83% of victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a restraining order, as compared to just 32% of victims without an attorney.” The report explains that domestic violence cases are challenging for applicants, and can be emotionally and legally difficult for most survivors who lack the assistance of counsel. Applicants tend to assume that the judge will simply rely on what they wrote in their applications and supporting affidavit, without their testifying to those facts under oath. An attorney will prepare the applicant to testify, assure that all of the factual allegations in the application and affidavit are proven, and cross-examine the respondent. The hearing will take about one hour, or less.

A CLE program on the law and practice of domestic violence protective order applications would prepare an attorney to represent an applicant effectively, and would serve as an incentive to provide pro bono representation in such cases.

Similarly, summary process proceedings in housing court involve an essential human need: housing. Yet the majority (two-thirds) of tenants facing eviction are poor and face homelessness without the assistance of counsel to represent them. Experienced tenant representatives—primarily legal services attorneys—report that, without the assistance of counsel, such tenants are not aware of available legal defenses to eviction, and are not able to give, or compel, essential relevant testimony or other evidence necessary for their defense.

A CLE program on the law and practice of summary process eviction proceedings would prepare an attorney to represent tenants effectively, both in the mandatory mediation with a housing specialist—and, if necessary, in an adversary hearing—without a major investment of time.

Domestic violence protective order proceedings and summary process eviction proceedings are but two examples of cases involving essential human needs in which the majority of low income parties are unable to afford legal representation. An attorney who has taken a CLE program in either or both of those areas of practice would be in a position to provide pro bono representation to needy litigants on these essential matters. We urge attorneys, whatever their areas of practice, to sign up for CLE programs that would prepare them to take on these, and other, pro bono cases. •