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The mission of Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP) is to promote equal justice for the poor by providing civil legal services not otherwise available, collaborating with other legal services organizations and promoting a culture of volunteerism by educating and exposing attorneys and law students to issues of poverty. VIP secures pro bono legal services for low-income individuals and families facing civil legal problems that threaten their basic human needs – shelter, employment, financial stability, education and health. Since the Philadelphia Bar Association founded VIP in 1981, more than 7,000 Philadelphia lawyers have volunteered in the service of more than 20,000 families. Family law is one of VIP’s four priority areas of service and is an area of critical need for our clients. In general, family law matters include issues of child custody and support, adoption, guardianship, divorce and name changes. In each of these general areas, there are complex issues, including uncontested, contested and complex divorce litigation; annulments and legal separations; property division and distribution matters; interstate and international child custody matters; child access and visitation issues; child support disputes; spousal maintenance and alimony awards; paternity matters; orders of protection; adoptions; and issues relating to guardianships and conservatorships. The complexity of these issues is confounding for VIP’s target population of low-income clients – people who, in most instances, are the “working poor” with limited education and understanding of the multi-layered issues involved in legal proceedings. Over 80 percent of clients with cases heard in Philadelphia’s Family Court have no representation. Clients are faced with navigating the complex family law system without knowledge and understanding of protocols, the law and, in many instances, their basic rights. Without legal representation, the process becomes adversarial and combative, often destroying the tenuous and delicate balance that must be maintained in a family. Issues that otherwise could be resolved by professional representation lead to long-term disputes that adversely affect the individual lives of parents and children. The core of VIP’s mission is promoting a culture of volunteerism in the private bar to connect lawyers to the needs of low-income people and to make known the indispensable role that lawyers must play in meeting those needs as a key ingredient in healing the suffering of clients living on the social margins. Recognizing that family law cases constitute the highest number of VIP’s referrals for pro bono legal assistance, focus on building the capacity of family law volunteers through a Family Law Project has become the organization’s highest program priority. Our goal is to recruit more volunteers to help more clients in family law cases. But in order to achieve this goal, we need your commitment and your help. One particular area of need is recruiting attorneys to provide legal representation in divorce cases. There are extremely limited legal services available to assist low-income individuals in Philadelphia seeking a divorce. Philadelphia VIP attempts to fill that gap by recruiting and training volunteer attorneys to handle divorce cases on a pro bono basis. However, most attorneys don’t realize the ramifications of a client being unrepresented in a divorce case. Sometimes the client attempts to file pro se through an incredibly arduous and challenging process. In many cases, the client chooses not to file for divorce and ends up legally married for years to a person that client may not even see anymore. When low-income individuals are unable to secure pro bono representation for divorce cases, the ramifications extend far beyond the relationship itself. Not being able to get a divorce can prevent a client from having title to their home, having a formal custody or child support arrangement, receiving spousal support and even applying for public benefits. In stark terms, not being able to secure a divorce can keep an individual in a cycle of poverty without the means to escape. Obtaining a divorce can assist a client in gaining financial independence, securing custody of their children, preventing homelessness, preserving income and credit and, most importantly, ensuring access to justice. We hope you are one of the many attorneys who will volunteer to help our clients. However, some attorneys may be hesitant to volunteer in family law cases because they are apprehensive that they lack knowledge and experience. In VIP’s ongoing role as a bridge between the private and the public sector, we are hosting, in collaboration with the Legal Clinic for the Disabled and Women Against Abuse, training on how to represent a client in a divorce proceeding. The training program, “Divorce Practice in Philadelphia,” will take place on Friday, March 7, from noon to 2:15 p.m., hosted by the law firm of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel. Our trainer is Megan Watson, an experienced family law practitioner and partner at the Philadelphia law firm Berner & Klaw. This training will set forth everything a volunteer needs to know to be effective in representing a client in a VIP divorce case and will include lunch, materials and two substantive CLE credits. The CLE credits are free to anyone willing to accept a VIP divorce case within six months of the training date. To register, please call VIP at 215-523-9550 or e-mail at [email protected]. We encourage you to check out our full calendar of training programs on VIP’s Web site, www.phillyvip.org. There are many requests each day for free legal assistance from low-income Philadelphians seeking help in areas jeopardizing their basic human needs. Our volunteers are essential to making a difference in our clients’ lives, and we invite you to contact us to learn how you can help. Each of us working together can help achieve access to equal justice for all members of our community. Sara L. Woods is the executive director of Philadelphia VIP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting and training volunteer attorneys to assist low-income clients with nonfee-generating civil matters as well as nonprofit organizations and small businesses through the LawWorks Project.

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