. . . justice for all
Once a promise believed, now to many of our nation's poor, justice seems as elusive as
reaching the American dream. Hundreds of thousands of Missouri residents survive on
incomes below poverty level and although most face critical legal problems each year, none
has the means to hire an attorney. Fortunately, many who can do something about fulfilling
the promise of justice are doing just that.
Find Out How to Become a Volunteer Attorney
For more than two decades, federally funded legal services programs single-handedly
provided representation in civil cases to those with little or no income. However, in 1982
the Legal Services Corporation experienced a twenty-five percent decrease in federal
funds, inevitably resulting in massive staff reductions at the legal services programs it
funds and, in some cases, the elimination of programs. Faced with the inability to
continue meeting the needs of clients, legal services programs across the country turned
to attorneys in the private sector for help.
In an attempt to sustain services in our community, the local legal services program,
Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO), with the support of bar associations throughout its
service area, created the Volunteer Attorney Project (VAP). The concept was to coordinate
an effort with private attorneys who were willing to donate their time and experience to
those in need. As hoped, the idea and collaboration have succeeded and as a result,
eligible residents of western Missouri may now receive free legal assistance from
attorneys in private practice.
Clients assisted through the Volunteer Attorney
Project are referred by your local LAWMo office.
For more information call (816) 421-8020.
Through VAP, each year over 900 area residents receive pro bono (free) legal counsel or
representation for problems involving: consumer law, such as unfair sales practices,
contract disputes and bankruptcy; dissolutions of marriage (divorces) and other family law
matters; housing issues, from landlord-tenant disputes to real estate; governmental
benefits, including Social Security and unemployment compensation; and various other civil
legal matters. Clients are initially screened and interviewed by LAWMO staff, who first
determine whether the case comes within LAWMO's case priorities and is suitable for
referral to the VAP program. When a case is referred to VAP, it is placed with an attorney
whose interest and area of expertise match our client's needs. This helps to insure that
clients receive the highest quality of service.
In Kansas City
The Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, the Lawyers Association of Kansas City
and the Kansas City Bar Foundation co-sponsor the project serving residents of Jackson,
Clay and Platte counties. VAP in Kansas City began operation in 1982 with an initial
enrollment of 46 attorneys. Today, in addition to the over 550 individual attorneys
participating, a total of 13 law firms and in-house corporate counsel have joined VAP's
panel of volunteers. Each year these volunteers deliver services to hundreds of Kansas
City area residents.
In Northwest Missouri
Serving the counties of Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Caldwell, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb,
Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Linn, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway, Putnam, Sullivan and
Worth is the Northwest Missouri VAP (NWMVAP). Co-sponsored by the St. Joseph Bar
Association, this program has operated through LAWMO's St. Joseph Office since 1984.
Presently, 79 attorneys have agreed to provide services through the project and annually
donate over 100 hours of legal services. Also coordinated through this program is the Farm
Project, which provides legal assistance to financially distressed farmers of Missouri.
In Southwest Missouri
The VAP program serving the counties of Barton, Bates, Jasper, McDonald, Newton and
Vernon is coordinated through LAWMO's Joplin Office. Currently 20 area attorneys are
enrolled in the project. The majority of cases referred through the Southwest Missouri
Volunteer Attorney Project (SWMVAP) involve family law issues, including dissolutions of
marriage and child custody. Additionally, to address the great need for dissolutions of
marriage, the project provides assistance through Pro Se Dissolution (do-it-yourself)
In West Central Missouri
The Warrensburg Office of LAWMO coordinates the West Central Missouri Volunteer
Attorney Project (WCMVAP) serving Benton, Camden, Carroll, Cass, Henry, Hickory, Johnson,
Lafayette, Morgan, Pettis, Ray, St. Clair and Saline counties. Co-sponsored by the Johnson
County Bar, this program provides representation to clients in a wide range of legal
matters. More than 30 area attorneys have accepted referrals through this program.
In addition to representing clients referred by LAWMO, VAP has developed specialized
programs to help increase the availability of legal services. These programs include:
Homeless Outreach Project:
Provides legal assistance to homeless shelter residents in the Kansas City area.
The Elderly Outreach Program:
Provides legal advice and counsel to the elderly during visits to senior citizens
nutrition centers in the metropolitan Kansas City area.
The Farm Project:
Offers free legal assistance to financially distressed farmers throughout the state of
Provides legal representation to victims of domestic violence.
Pro Se Dissolution Classes:
Attorneys provide step-by-step instructions to clients on how to prepare and represent
themselves in dissolution of marriage cases.
Provides assistance in obtaining powers of attorney and guardianships for those who
require legal custody of minors in their care who need non-emergency surgery.
Legal Services programs have been forced to cope with massive reductions in federal
funding. This crisis, together with the reality of rapidly increasing legal problems of
our low-income population, heightens the need for even greater VAP participation.
Our clients share the same disadvantage--poverty. But at VAP we do not believe that
justice should be rationed because of one's poverty. With the ongoing support of our
community, the Volunteer Attorney Project will continue to provide equal access to