Christian Legal Organizations Bridge Legal Need Gap
After his car was totaled with $6,000 worth of damage, a blameless driver needed a new car. Even the insurance company agreed the fault was the other driver’s, but six months went by and the insurance company hadn’t paid up.
At his wit’s end, the driver came into Christian Legal Aid asking for help, said Director Ken Liu. The driver hadn’t been able to afford another car and needed the insurance money.
Liu wrote what he called a “nice lawyer letter” to the insurance company and finally got their attention. Liu even asked for an additional $2,000 to make up for the delay. The company paid both sums in full.
All it took was a letter from a lawyer to get justice like this, Liu said. Often, though, people can’t afford access to lawyers. In fact, one in three Americans cannot afford an attorney to help with their cases.
Christian Legal Aid works to change that by offering free or low-cost legal services to people.
“Legal services are [important] for helping those who are oppressed, whether it’s oppressed by one’s own spouse or an employer or a landlord or unscrupulous companies,” Liu said.
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Around the country, there are Christian legal aid nonprofits striving to make a difference for people in need. Here are five:
Based in Virginia, Christian Legal Aid supports 60 legal service programs around the country that reach 130 communities, according to their website.
The organization helps to start and then provides resources for these programs, like training and informational clinics. They also encourage Christian attorneys to volunteer.
“I got involved [with Christian Legal Aid] because I truly believe Christian attorneys have a God-given calling to serve the poor with our legal skills and talents,” Liu said. “The Bible is clear that God cares about justice.”
These programs are pivotal in communities, he said. Not only do they provide legal services for low-income families, but they also share God’s love as they do it.
The ministry is gearing up for an expected increase in housing and eviction cases. During the pandemic, a moratorium was set to delay evictions. With the moratorium expiring soon, Liu said he expects their organization will be flooded with cases. Their attorneys will work to ensure each case goes through the proper procedures and no one is wrongfully evicted.
Attorney Bruce Strom left his law practice in 2000 to start Administer Justice. He started running it outside of his church one Saturday a month, but soon the organization grew to need him full-time.
Now, hundreds of attorneys and volunteers come together to impact thousands each year, according to their website.
Administer Justice helps legal aid centers start in churches across the U.S., said Emily O’Donnell, director of development and communications at Administer Justice.
Just as Strom did when he started Administer Justice, these centers open once a month to provide Christ-centered legal care. They offer their services “low-bono” at a $30 fee so that clients are invested in the process. The fee also covers the cost of paperwork to run the center.
“Our law does have many wonderful protections for the vulnerable, but if you don’t know what those are or how to access them, it really does you no good,” O’Donnell said. “The centers help people who are going through hard times know what their rights are and how to go about navigating the legal system.”
Administer Justice is working to establish 300 centers in the next five years.
Katina Werner began Christian Legal Collaborative Inc. four years ago with $220 of birthday money. Werner wanted to start an organization that would provide legal services, education, and advocacy for those who can’t afford it in Ohio.
She wanted her organization to not only offer legal services but also empower others. Christian Legal Collaborative provides one-on-one resources, educational sessions to teach clients about legal rights and resources, and encouragement for the next generation of attorneys, she said.
She said her two volunteers serve several hundred people a year. To provide preventatives and holistic services on a sliding scale, they sometimes work 12-hour days.
Supported by donors, the organization now runs out of two churches. Werner is frugal, trying to operate on small means to honor God.
Each week, more than 350 people in St. Louis are unrepresented in civil cases, said New Covenant Legal Services (NCLS) Executive Director Al W. Johnson. His organization strives to change that.
NCLS serves individuals with limited or fixed incomes in the area. The nonprofit provides legal aid for people who don’t quite qualify for government help, but still can’t afford an attorney, Johnson said. They offer pro-bono or “low-bono” services.
Previously, Johnson ran his own practice. As he was starting to approach retirement at 70 years old, a local nonprofit approached him with the idea of starting a Christ-centered legal organization. NCLS serves others with legal aid and Christ’s love, he said.
NCLS is currently working to hire another full-time attorney.
Vineyard Immigration Counseling Services works to empower low-income immigrants in Central Ohio, according to their Facebook page.
In 2019, Vineyard provided legal services to 406 clients. Additionally, their seven volunteer attorneys donated 836 pro bono hours.
Director Jeanine Winfrey was unavailable to comment further on the organization.
Why is Christian legal aid necessary?
Christian legal aid organizations work to meet the needs of low-income families. Organizations like Administer Justice provide access to legal care and resources pro-bono or “low-bono”.
Here’s why this work matters:
- 1 in 3 people Americans can’t afford an attorney.
- While more than 60 million Americans are eligible for free legal assistance, less than 20% receive help.
- Every working day, more than 4,300 people are turned away from legal services in the U.S.
- The idea for Christian legal aid comes from the Bible. “Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8
Information from https://www.administerjustice.org/learn-more/