On Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, folks will start waiting in line early. Single people, couples, parents with children, the young, and the elderly. People of every race, ethnicity, and background. They will wait to receive answers to their pressing legal questions. The questions will be answered free of charge by volunteer attorneys across Alaska who choose to help their fellow Alaskans on MLK Day.
Since 2010, the Alaska Bar Association, the Alaska Court System, and Alaska Legal Services (with other partner organizations) have sponsored free legal clinics every MLK Day. This year the clinics will be held on January 21, 2013, in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. This will mark the program's fourth year. The volunteer attorneys will help people with their legal needs in the areas of family, landlord-tenant, and public-benefits law. Frequently discussed issues include marriage, divorce, child custody, adoption, domestic violence, alimony, eviction, leases, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Everyone is welcome to participate in the program. There is no qualifying income limit. Volunteer attorneys provide free advice on a first-come-first-served basis, so there is no need to register in advance. The consultations are private, and interpreters will be present. Every client who comes with a legal question will leave with an answer, or at least be put on the path to an answer. Follow-up with past clients reveals that the advice they got helped them resolve their legal problems. Each year, as word of the program spreads, more clients come with their legal questions on MLK Day. The clinics serve a real need, at no cost to the clients or to the public.
Dr. King had a dream that one day all people would be guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He called for justice and opportunity for all. And he asked that we bridge differences and come together in unity. In 1968, Dr. King was shot down by an assassin's bullet. In 1983, Congress approved a national holiday commemorating Dr. King's birth, to be held on the third Monday of each January. President Reagan signed the bill, creating MLK Day as a national holiday.
In 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service, "a day on, not a day off." In cities throughout the country, hundreds of thousands of people now volunteer to paint homeless shelters, deliver care packages for homebound seniors, distribute smoke detectors, clean churches and schools, tutor children, offer medical and dental care, and provide other services free to those in need.
The Alaska legal community follows proudly in their footsteps. We encourage others in Alaska to join us, and to volunteer for other service projects on MLK Day. If a project does not exist in your field of work or interest, why not organize one? Alaskans are known to be a hardy, self-sufficient lot; but we also look after fellow Alaskans in need. Most of us don't work on MLK Day, and volunteer work is rewarding and, well, just plain fun. Be a part of public service conceived and executed from the "bottom up," rather than from the "top down."
The legal community's volunteer work on MLK Day is provided without government funding or grants, and it enjoys the support of both liberals and conservatives. You can help to create more "points of light" on MLK Day, as envisioned by President George H.W. Bush. Volunteer service on MLK Day truly brings the entire community together for a day.
If you or someone you know needs legal assistance, volunteer attorneys will be available on MLK Day, Monday, January 21, at the following locations:
• Anchorage: Mountain View Community Center, 315 Price Street (noon-6 p.m.)
• Fairbanks: Rabinowitz Courthouse, 101 Lacey Street (10 a.m.- 4 p.m.)
• Juneau: Two locations -- Aldersgate Methodist Church, 9161 Cinema Drive (9 a.m.-noon); and Dimond Courthouse, 123 4th Street (1 p.m.-4 p.m.)
More information is available at www.alaskabar.org/mlk.
Russ Winner is an attorney who founded the MLK Day legal clinics, and he will be a volunteer at the 2013 clinic in Anchorage.