Three Dog Night or Kool and the Gang?

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music. OR. Celebrate good times, come on.

The nation is experiencing a financial meltdown. People are losing their jobs in record numbers. Legal Service organizations and normally stable law firms are experiencing reductions or freezes in their workforce, many for the first time ever. And soon we’ll whisk in a new year.

This is definitely not the time to celebrate, right? Wrong.

Wait, what?

It’s exactly the time for us to celebrate what so many of us ARE accomplishing. This is the time for us to rally behind each other and support one another.

Why?

Because the numbers don’t lie. Recently I asked South Carolina Legal Services whether the current crisis had any effect on the requests for service they had received. Here is what I received:

Comparison figures for applicants seeking SCLS services:

 

Jan. 1, 2007 – Dec. 15, 2007                Jan.1, 2008 – Dec. 15, 2008

Cases Accepted          7,281                       Cases Accepted          8,375 ( +1,094)

Cases Denied             3,395                         Cases Denied              3,249 ( -149)

TOTAL CASES             10,676                      TOTAL CASES             11,624 ( + 948)

 

  That’s almost a thousand more applicants coming through SCLS intake this year-to-date as compared to the same period last year.

 

There is also an increase in the consumer and employment cases SCLS closed this year:

 

2007 closed cases              2008 closed cases (12/15/08)        Difference

 Bankruptcy-275                         Bankruptcy-315                                       +40 cases

Collect’ n (incl Repo.)-265      Collect’n-277                                             +12 cases

Total Consumer-737                 Total Consumer-792                              +55 cases

 

Employment cases-117           Employment cases-273                        +156 cases

 

Housing-952                                 Housing -780                                            -172 cases

  

There’s even more difference in cases ACCEPTED:

 

2007 (Jan – Dec 15)                    2008 (Jan – Dec 15)              Difference

 Bankruptcy                    316              448                                                    +132

Total Consumer           812                1,075                                                +263

 

Total Employment      214                410                                                    +196

 

Total Housing                1,049            976                                                    -73(no HUD counseling grant in 2008)        

  

Additionally, there were 2,654 more calls answered at the SCLS Call Center through November 2008 over the same period last year.

 

About this time, you’re probably thinking, why celebrate? Doesn’t this simply confirm what everyone has been saying – we’re in a recession; more people need legal assistance; and legal assistance resources are being cut in record numbers. And you’re right, these numbers ARE horrific. And we could wallow. BUT let’s take a moment to recognize the good that HAS been done this year.

 

SCLS assisted 8,375 new clients this year. That’s 8,375 people who were given hope. That’s 8,375 people who probably were wondering what they would do if they lost their home, their job, their medical benefits. That’s 8.375 people whose request was taken seriously. That’s 8,375 people who received access to justice.

 

Sure, it’s likely that not all of the 8,375 individuals won their cases. But it is likely that having someone to listen to them and fight for their civil rights meant something incredible for every one of those 8,375 individuals.

 

You’ve had an opportunity to read about some of those individuals in this blog and I hope to continue to share their stories.

 

And I hope that your holiday is filled with peace and that you take a moment to celebrate the successes of South Carolina Legal Services, the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono volunteer attorneys, and everyone else who has been involved in the worthy cause to make access to justice a reality for all South Carolinians, regardless of their financial status.

 

I will be traveling next week and although I’ll attempt to check in, I may be “off the grid.”  If so, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, a Meaningful Kwanzaa and peace until then.

 

-RFW