President's Message

Domestic violence survivors need your pro bono help and other support

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William C. Hubbard

Photo of William C. Hubbard by Marc Hauser

As we approach the holiday season and look forward to spending time with loved ones, many families in our communities cannot find peace in their homes. The American Bar Association has long recognized the legal profession's central role in addressing the urgent national problem of domestic violence, and we are committed to reinvigorating our efforts.

The facts are startling. One in three women has experienced physical violence by an intimate partner during her lifetime. More than half of female rape victims report that the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner. Although women are the majority of victims, many men are as well.

The repercussions of domestic violence are heartbreaking and a drain on society. Exposure to domestic violence—including by children—can result in behavioral, social and emotional problems, as well as cognitive impairments, developmental delays and other long-term consequences that no one should have to endure.

A lawyer's skilled assistance is critical to help a survivor heal, regain stability and move forward with life. Research shows that the availability of civil legal services in a community greatly reduces the likelihood of domestic violence. A lawyer can help a victim secure safety, obtain child custody and support, find housing, maintain employment, and receive other benefits that are needed to live free from an abuser.

The essential role of lawyers is why the ABA established its Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence 20 years ago. We are also marking the 20th anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which the ABA has championed since its inception.

During the past two decades, the ABA has been a national leader in providing consultation and training to lawyers and organizations that address these crimes and their consequences. Through the commission, the ABA offers victims access to justice with comprehensive training for lawyers to represent domestic violence survivors. Our training model has been lauded by the U.S. Department of Justice and funded for more than a decade through its Office on Violence Against Women.

There are many ways for you to help, regardless of your practice or experience. Pro bono assistance is critical because the supply of trained lawyers is far below the demand. The largest source of funding for civil legal assistance for survivors, the Violence Against Women Act, supported an average of just 244 full-time lawyers nationwide from 2009 to 2011. Legal aid offices can handle less than one-fifth of the needs of eligible clients.

The commission can help with local training, reviewing and drafting of training materials and policies, providing case law and statutory materials, hosting community roundtables, and helping develop pro bono programs. You can also join one of the commission's six online discussion groups tailored for the needs of litigators, professors, students and policymakers. For more information on the commission, go to

Here are other ways to help:

• Take a pro bono case with a local organization that provides training and supervision. Find local opportunities at or

• See the ABA's Model Workplace Policy on Employer Responses to Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking at

• Get CLE credits and materials on the Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking in Civil Protection Order Cases at

• Look for a new edition of the popular The Impact of Domestic Violence on Your Legal Practice: A Lawyer's Handbook at

I urge you to resolve to join the legal profession's response to domestic violence. Together, we will implement our motto, "A lawyer for every victim." Together, we will seek justice and safety for survivors.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Justice and Healing: Domestic violence survivors need your pro bono legal help and other support."
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