Posted Jul 01, 2011 06:30 am CDT
Stephen T. Lynch was certain there was something wrong about the hospital debt being sought from a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. As far as Lynch could tell, the alleged debtor—a petty officer second class—didn’t owe anything, let alone the amount in question. But the collection agency wouldn’t budge and filed suit in Michigan, where the man was stationed.
But Lynch, who works as a civilian legal assistance attorney for the Coast Guard, is based in Cleveland, so he couldn’t represent the petty officer in the Michigan court.
Instead, Lynch turned to ABA Home Front, a new website established by the association to help service members and their families understand legal issues affecting them and find assistance in dealing with those issues.
Lynch visited the Home Front link to the Military Pro Bono Center, and in less than 24 hours he found a volunteer lawyer in Michigan to help the petty officer. A hearing took place a few days later, and the case was dismissed.
“One reason for legal assistance is readiness,” says Lynch, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. “If we’ve got soldiers and sailors mired in legal problems, they can’t focus on their missions. In my mind, the beauty of this situation was that it helped validate the value of the project.”
Lynch, an adviser to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security, is one of the association members and staff who worked to bring ABA Home Front into existence after only a few months. The website went live May 2.
“Being in the military is a 24/7 commitment that takes its members and their families across the country and around the world,” says ABA President Stephen N. Zack, who is administrative partner in the Miami office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. “That’s where the online legal center comes in. At any time, someone can access basic information on the legal issue they’re dealing with—whether it’s a family law matter, tax question or problem with a creditor.”
The Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel is among the entities that cooperated to create ABA Home Front. The Home Front Military Pro Bono Center is based largely on LAMP’s Military Pro Bono Project. In addition, Operation Enduring LAMP was folded into the Home Front Directory of Programs, which offers a state-by-state listing of programs and organizations that provide legal assistance to service members and their families.
A third feature of ABA Home Front is an information center that provides materials explaining how lawyers can help members of the military and how the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act works. The act offers special legal protections for service personnel on full-time active duty and reservists on active duty for more than 30 days.
The information center also has a special section on family law; additional topics to be added soon include landlord-tenant matters, tax law, employment law, and contracts and leases.
“It’s a good starting point where people can go,” says Henry M. DeWoskin, a lawyer in Clayton, Mo., who chairs the Military Committee in the ABA Section of Family Law. DeWoskin worked on setting up the webpage, with a focus on providing information that is clearly written and can be easily understood by nonlawyers. He is a member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and serves as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
The new site is an important effort to assist service members, says ABA Executive Director Jack L. Rives, who previously was the judge advocate general of the Air Force. “The American Bar Association profoundly appreciates the service and sacrifices of our armed forces,” he says. “Our ABA Home Front program represents a significant step forward to ensure the kind of high-quality legal support our nation’s warriors and their families need—and deserve.”