September, 2018

Volunteer Commercial Litigators Serve Columbus, Ohio, Residents Through Innovative Pro Bono Program

In Columbus, Ohio, one innovative pro bono program uses volunteer attorneys—including prominent commercial litigators—to combat the housing and eviction crisis.

As a result of the uniquely high number of evictions in Columbus, many tenants find themselves unrepresented in their cases. To combat this problem, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) piloted the Pro Bono Tenant Advocacy Project, a pro bono program focused on eviction issues. The housing clinic successfully provided a variety of legal services to individuals facing eviction through volunteer attorneys and staff for several years.

Unfortunately, the program lost significant funding and the LASC was forced to discontinue the program in 2011 and consider other options to combat the housing crisis. The following year, with the assistance of the Columbus Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee, the LASC created a Volunteer Resource Center (the “VRC”), which ultimately had over 140 volunteer lawyers from the Columbus legal community. Retired attorneys provided leadership to the VRC, and volunteer lawyers assisted with landlord/tenant issues as well as other important cases for those who had no access to justice. Even with the creation of the VRC, however, there were still hundreds of individuals whose needs could not be adequately served.


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How Columbus lawyers have joined the effort to stem evictions

Every day in Central Ohio, an average of 75 people are told they face eviction.

So far, the area is on pace to match last year’s 18,000 filings. While a number of nonprofits and local agencies have been pushing to stem the tide, area lawyers also are working to expand representation for people who often have to navigate unfamiliar court proceedings.

The Ohio State Legal Services Association, a nonprofit group founded by the Ohio State Bar Association to help people without means, has 34 attorneys, including two specifically working with those facing eviction. But each can see five or six cases a day, said Stephanie Harris, development director for the legal services association.


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