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Committee continues search to increase access to legal representation

A group of lawmakers and members of the public will meet on Wednesday to continue studying how the state can increase residents’ access to legal representation in civil cases.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in Room 413 North in the state Capitol.

The committee plans to hear from representatives of Legal Services Corp., a federal agency which gives grants for civil legal aid; the National Guard Office of the Staff Judge Advocate; Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides free legal services to low-income residents; and the Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

The committee will also discuss a letter from Adam Plotkin, the legislative liaison of the State Public Defender. The letter, dated Aug. 19, provides information and responses to questions raised at a meeting in July.

The SPD has an interest in providing greater access to civil legal services because its clients’ criminal charges are generally either caused by or exacerbated by problems involving the civil legal system, according to the letter.

Among other things, Plotkin suggested that the committee explore “holistic representation,” a system calling on public attorneys to provide representation in all areas of the legal system, as well as helping to meet clients’ needs outside the courtroom. The system has been gaining momentum nationally and taken off in New York and various other states.

Plotkin also offered suggestions involving limited-scope representation, which allows lawyers to advise clients without forming attorney-client relationships and to represent clients in only one part of a particular legal proceeding.

The committee held its first meeting on July 27 and heard from representatives of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s pro bono program, the American Bar Association, the Greater Wisconsin Agency On Aging Resources Inc., Disability Rights Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Economic Justice Institute.

Members then said they were interested in exploring topics such as expanding limited-scope representation, requiring attorneys to do a certain amount of pro bono legal work each year in order renew their law licenses, creating an income-tax credit for lawyers who provide pro bono legal services and redirecting certain appropriations to civil legal services if allowed to by federal law.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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