By Wendy Ascher, SALA Managing Attorney/Director of Intake
Attorneys are ethically responsible for making sure they have enough time and other resources to serve their clients. The service that a lawyer provides must be quality service, at the level that the situation demands.
Legal aid attorneys who work at SALA are no different—they have to make sure they can provide quality service to every client accepted for service. Even though SALA’s services are provided free of charge, our clients have a right to the same ethical considerations as a paying client with a private attorney. Unfortunately, this means that SALA must sometimes turn away people who may otherwise be eligible for our services.
SALA’s resources are limited. A private law firm can raise prices and then hire more attorneys. SALA is a nonprofit law firm and relies on government grants and donations from the community so that we can provide free legal assistance. Applying for grants is a slow, complex process so it can take a long time for the resources (grant money) to catch up to the demand for a particular service. Sometimes, the funding just does not meet the need.
SALA provides legal services to 9 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Within those counties, about 400,000 people would qualify for services if they had a civil legal problem. Currently, SALA has 29 attorneys to cover all those counties. That is potentially over 13,000 people for each SALA attorney. Some counties may have other free or low cost legal resources but in all of our counties, SALA is the main resource available.
As you can see, between our limited resources and the vast number of people who need services, it is sometimes necessary for SALA to limit accepting certain types of cases and focus on the highest needs. SALA is not alone—The Justice Gap report found “that about 50% of people who approached LSC-funded legal aid organizations for help did not receive help because of insufficient resources.”
We hope you will keep this in mind next time you hear that SALA cannot help with certain kinds of cases. We manage our limited resources in ways that serve the most urgent needs in our community. If you apply for assistance and SALA cannot help, we try our best to point you to other options for help.
For anyone who wants to dig deeper into the Attorney code of ethics, here is a link to the American Bar Association Modern Rules of Professional Conduct, click here.