Alaska attorneys offer free legal help at annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day clinic

A four story concrete building
Alaska State Capitol building (left) and Dimond Courthouse, Juneau, Alaska, January. 23, 2017. (Skip Gray/360 North)

The Alaska Bar Association offered free legal help Monday to people throughout the state during its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day clinic.

Krista Scully, the Alaska Bar Association’s pro bono director, said access to affordable legal services is a longstanding problem.

“The need is so great that even if every attorney in the state handled one pro bono case, we would still have unmet need,” she said.

More than 80 people signed up for Monday’s event. Since the annual clinic started 13 years ago, the statewide bar association has helped more than 4,000 low- to moderate-income Alaskans. Scully said clinics like this one serve a group of people who usually can’t get that kind of support.

“In the world of access to justice, there’s something that’s well known as the justice gap,” she said. “Legal aid organizations work very closely with folks who meet the federal poverty level, and then there’s the population of folks who can afford legal assistance, and then there’s this giant gap in between.”

Thirty-two attorneys volunteered to work with clients on civil issues including family law, employment law, estate planning and landlord and tenant law.

Janell Hafner, an attorney in Juneau, was one of those volunteers. She said it felt especially important to get involved this year, as the pandemic continues to take a financial toll.

“Individuals who had a tough time affording a lawyer three or four years ago now have perhaps less economic opportunities, or are on more insecure housing footing than before,” Hafner said. “So all the problems that have been facing Alaskans all along, now combined with the second year of the pandemic, has just exacerbated a problem.”

Hafner said it was a fitting way to spend the holiday.

“Promoting social justice and helping to close the civil legal justice gap is something that is intimately tied to his vision, and I can’t think of a better way for lawyers to honor Dr. King’s legacy than to commit to using the legal tools at our disposal to help our fellow Alaskans,” she said.

The Alaska Bar Association holds free legal clinics throughout the year. Its website also lists pro bono legal service providers across the state, including those related to immigration, disability law, and domestic violence and sexual assault. AlaskaLawHelp.org also provides free legal information, hotlines and clinics. Alaskans who meet financial requirements can ask civil legal questions at alaska.freelegalanswers.org.

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