Access to Justice a Crucial Component of Civil Rights

Angelina Tsu, Utah State Bar President-Elect Designate

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark legislation was passed for the primary purpose of outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. As a woman of Chinese descent, I am particularly grateful for the protections this legislation provides. While it is difficult for the modern mind to imagine a world where such overt discrimination is common place, I think reasonable people agree that inequality remains. As an attorney, I most commonly see inequality in our legal system. Those who are able to afford legal counsel are able to navigate a complex system and ultimately find justice. Too often, those without the means to hire counsel do not find the justice they seek. I consider it my personal obligation—and honor—as an attorney to support access to justice for all. Statistics show that most attorneys share this passion.

A recent survey of attorneys indicates that 70% of the Bar is engaged in pro bono work on a weekly basis, embracing one of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct which states that “[a] lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico [for the public good] legal services per year.” The Utah State Bar’s Access to Justice office manages two incredible programs that expand legal services to underserved communities: the Pro Bono Commission and the Modest Means Lawyer Referral Program.

The Pro Bono Commission was created for the purpose of improving access to justice by providing legal services to those with income of less than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. These services are provided free of charge to individuals who qualify.  Individuals interested in pro bono legal services can contact Utah Legal Services at 801-328-8891 or 800-662-4245 for more information about qualifications and services. There are many additional opportunities for free legal assistance throughout the state, including the Tuesday Night Bar at the Utah State Bar in Salt Lake City; appointments can be made by calling 801-297-7037. See www.utahbar.org/freeclinics for additional information regarding statewide pro bono services.

The Bar’s Modest Means Lawyer Referral Program provides affordable legal assistance to people who make from 125% to 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (up to $70,000 for a family of four). The discounted hourly rates are determined by the financial circumstances of the individual clients. The Modest Means Lawyer Referral is a valuable resource for individuals who need legal assistance but cannot qualify for pro bono legal services.

When Mariska Byers could not qualify for a pro bono attorney, she contacted the Modest Means Lawyer Referral program. The Bar referred her to attorney Ben Lawrence. “He treated me just like any other client,” said Byers, “and he helped me achieve a fair outcome at a cost I could afford.”

Interested parties should visit www.utahbar.org/lawyer-referral to see if they qualify for discounted legal services referred by the Bar.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it is important to acknowledge how far we have come and reflect on what we can do to ensure a future of equality for all. Access to justice is an important component of this future. I hope you will join me—and countless members of the Utah State Bar—in supporting this great cause. Because the future isn’t just a place that we go—it’s a place that we build.

Angelina Tsu is Vice President and Legal Counsel at Zions Bancorporation. She represents the Third District on the Utah State Bar Commission and serves on the board of the Utah Minority Bar Foundation. She was recently elected by Bar members as president-elect for 2014-15 and will begin her term as Bar president in July 2015.