Monday, September 21, 2009

R.I.P. Marion County Law Library?

Today's Indianapolis Star brings a story about the possible demise of the Marion County Law Library. The new budget proposed by the mayor does not have funding for the law library.

Tucked away in a corner on the third floor, the law library serves two types of patrons, pro se litigants and attorneys. The article only focused on pro se litigants, but as a user of the facility myself, I often see attorneys in the library. While most legal research can now be done using on-line databases, sometimes an attorney needs to access the books to find cases from other jurisdictions. Also, research on-line can be spotty, causing attorneys to overlook key cases.

What concerns me though is the loss of the law library to the pro se litigant. When I'm at the library looking through the books, I often see the librarian assisting people who can't afford an attorney but need a form or two filled out. The library provides a valuable assistance to those pro se litigants. With the high cost of legal fees and unemployment in the double figures, the numbers of people who can't afford legal services is rising.

These people have to go somewhere to get legal help. Ryan Vaughn, a Barnes & Thornburg attorney, who heads the City-County Council's public safety committee is quoted in the Star article: "It would be healthier for the system as far as efficiencies if we had more lawyers doing pro bono work."

First, I would point out that not every law firm makes millions of dollars a year from taxpayers that they can simply dispatch associates to do pro bono work. Our small law firm often works with lower end clients who often struggle to pay attorney's fees. We end up writing off a lot of time for these clients, but at the end of the day our firm still has to pay the associates' salaries, the light bill, the phone bill, etc.

Indiana's voluntary pro bono system, that Vaughn advocates, has never worked, never come even remotely close to meeting the needs of those who can't afford our legal system. Those people are not going to suddenly have legal services open up to them them with the closing of the law library. Marion County courts have historically referred people asking questions about filing forms to the law library. The librarians there have always showed incredible patience in dealing with these clients as they attempt to find the right forms. Now those pro se litigants are going to be dumped directly into the court system without any legal guidance.

I spoke on the elimination of the library at the public safety meeting hearing the budget. I advocated at the time that the county look at the local law school as a resource for keeping the law library open. The weakness of a law school education, including that provided by IU Law School at Indianapolis, has always been the failure to provide students with practical experience in the practice of law. The law school could provide the library resources for the county law library as well as second and third year students who, under direction of a professor, could assist pro se litigants in finding the correct legal forms. Judges at the city-county building could provide those students with courtroom experiences that furthers their practical legal education. I would venture to say that a semester of being in such a program would provide more real life legal experience than three years of law school.

Until pro se litigants disappear, which will be never, the county needs to keep the county law library open. A creative approach like using the law library as part of a law school practicum could fill the need.


Anonymous said...


I work at a firm that has come up with an innovative solution to the Pro Bono problem. My firm doesn't pay associates salaries- all of their work is pro bono! This is a ground-breaking strategy as it not only allows young attorneys to have a great deal of client interaction, but it also permits them to better understand the concerns and perspective of those who cannot afford attorneys. Once the debt collectors start calling and 26 year old yuppies realize they do not know where their next meal will come from- then they are finally relieved of the yuppy trappings of the legal field and can truly empathize with their clients plight and whole-heartedly embrace the practice of law. I think you should propose this strategy to the partners at your firm and hopefully this trend will sweep the nation. I should apologize in advance to Sallie Mae, CitiBank, Direct Loans (and any other lender I may have omitted) for the adverse impact this plan might have on their business.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Actually, Anon, at a law firm where I uses worked at in Carmel, the partner there used to say we did pro bono - it's the cases where our clients stiff us on fees - which is frequent.

I think associates lose their "yuppy trappings" real fast when they go out in the real world and find law firms are paying $35K, without any benefits. They suddenly realize they've been duped by their law schools into getting an education that may well never pay off.

Guess What I Heard said...

DIRTY Politics in Public Safety!!!

IFD recently merged with the Perry Township Fire Department in what was lauded as a great accomplishment for the city of Indianapolis. What you don’t know is that there was a secret deal brokered with former Public Safety Director Scott Newman, outgoing Chief of Staff Paul Okeson, and current Perry Township Trustee, Gary Coons. Here are the details:
1. Gary Coons informed Paul Okeson and Scott Newman that if they promised him a job in the current administration that he would guarantee them that the merger for PFD would go through no matter what. The promised job was that he would be the Director or the Deputy Director of Emergency Management since there were two vacant positions. All parties agreed that was acceptable.
2. Jim White was given the position as Director of EMA and stated he did not need a Deputy Director and has said to multiple sources that he does not want Gary Coons even if he did get a Deputy Director.
3. Gary Coons was upset and felt betrayed and he confronted Newman and Okeson about the deal they had made. Newman and Okeson informed Coons to apply for the now vacant position of Director of Public Safety saying he would have an influential position in the administration as the Director. Coons applied for the position along with several hundred other applicants.
4. Recently PFD merged with IFD and Mayor Ballard held a town-hall meeting at the PFD Station on September 5, 2009 to discuss the benefits of the merger. Gary Coons who was present at the meeting was rumored to have had a conversation with acting Director of Public Safety Mark Renner about a new job. Several individuals overheard Renner and Coons talking about his new position and his start date. No one knew what position they were talking about.
5. On the week of September 7th Gary Coons started a new position with the Department of Public Safety as the Department of Public Safety’s Liaison. His salary is over a staggering $70,000 per year all while he is STILL the trustee of Perry Township!
a. The job was NEVER posted on the city’s website.
b. His role is very vague and he is not connected will enough to be a liaison for the city according to associates of Coons.
c. He is still earning a salary of $40,000 as the trustee in addition to his new salary and has said he does not intend to resign.
6. Renner is attempting to become the Director of Public Safety and has been informed by Okeson and Newman that they would push for him to become the new Director on the condition that he promotes Coons as his Deputy Director.
What happened to the Mayor’s promise of being “transparent” and NOT playing the usual political games that others played?
P.S.- Current Director of Re-Entry Khadejha Muhammad is being replace by Marion County Republican Party Chairman, Tom John’s girlfriend’s –best friend, Rhiannon Williams. Rhiannon Williams is the current director of Pace-OAR and has been said by many to publicly express her dissatisfaction with Khadejha Muhammad and that she would do a better job in that position. Muhammad was recently applauded for her outstanding work by Tony Dungy on national news. The sad part is that all of this was orchestrated by none other than…Paul Okeson and Scott Newman. I guess we all know who runs the administration and will be picking the new Public Safety Director for the Mayor….oh wait they already did pick him and the Mayor just doesn’t know that it’s none other than…Mark Renner.

Leslie Sourwine said...

There aren’t enough attorneys to do Pro Bono work to cover the millions of Americans who need legal advice. In addition there are very few firms who will provide the service for a pay later client for the very reasons Paul states. Some clients stiff the attorney for the bill. Closing the library is just another way to rape the poor and deny them access to the courts. Legal Aid Organizations do provide income related services but using the case stated in the Star, child custody, unless there is abuse or other domestic problem this guy would not qualify for services. Closing the library would serve only Law Firms like Barnes and Thornburg. The clients they represent are sued by the little guys who will now not be able to obtain the information they need to take their claims to court. Most bar associations require attorneys to donate some pro bono work as part of their membership. As mentioned before, there aren’t enough attorneys willing or able to assist lower income clients. That leaves millions on their own in the legal system. Justice for all should not require that you need a fat billfold.

Leslie Sourwine said...

Guess What I Heard

It has been apparent that the city of Indy is not interested in whether city actions are legal, ethical or otherwise wanted by the public. What you have just brought public is just another abuse added to the list in the Ballard Administration that continues to grow.