MLK Day: Not a day off for Alaska attorneys giving free legal help

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, folks across Alaska will once again be able to have their pressing legal questions answered without charge by volunteer lawyers. These attorneys believe that this holiday should be a "day on, not a day off."

This will be the seventh year of the MLK Day free legal clinics, to be held in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. In addition, people living in other parts of Alaska can call a toll-free number to speak to volunteer attorneys who will be waiting at a phone bank. The clinics and phone bank are sponsored by the Alaska Bar Association, the Alaska Court System, and Alaska Legal Services, in partnership with Alaska Public Media. Volunteer attorneys will be available to advise people, primarily in the areas of family, landlord-tenant, and public benefits law. Questions in other areas will be answered as well.

There is no qualifying income limit to receive legal advice at the clinics and phone bank. Volunteer attorneys will provide assistance 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 or calls with a legal question will receive an answer, or at least be put on the path to an answer. Each year, as word of the program has spread, more clients come or call with their legal questions on MLK Day. The clinics and phone bank serve a real need, at no cost to the clients or to the public.

MLK Day this year is Monday, Jan. 18. The Anchorage free legal clinic will be from noon to 6 p.m. at the Mountain View Community Center, 315 Price Street. The Fairbanks clinic will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the JP Jones Community Development Center, 2400 Rickert Street. The Juneau clinic will be from 9 a.m. to noon at Alaska Legal Services, Jordan Creek Center, 8800 Glacier Highway, Suite 228, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Juneau Courthouse, 4th and Main. The phone bank will be open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the toll-free number is 1-800-478-5256.

The freedoms and opportunities that we all enjoy in this country depend on the rule of law. Dr. King understood that equal access to justice is the foundation of the rule of law. Yet many of the poor have no access to attorneys to assist with their legal needs. The free legal clinics and phone bank are intended to help meet that need in his memory.

In 1968, Dr. King was gunned down by an assassin's bullet. In 1983, Congress approved a national holiday commemorating his birth, to be held on the third Monday of each January. In 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service, "a day on, not a day off." In cities throughout the country, volunteers provide a variety of services free to those in need. Alaska's attorneys are proud to be a part of that effort.

In the past six years, 860 volunteers at the MLK Day free legal clinics and phone bank have provided 1,990 clients with 3,680 hours of volunteer time. We hope that 2016 will be the catalyst for change in every Alaska community to offer its citizens volunteer opportunities that join us all in the mission of a "day on, not off" together to help those in need.

Russell L. Winner is the founder of the MLK Day free legal clinics and phone bank. He practices law in Anchorage.

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