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Lawyers scarce outside metro Atlanta
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To learn more about the Georgia Legal Services Program, call 770-535-5717 or visit the Gainesville office at 705 Washington St. NW, Suite B-1.
For more information about the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project click here.

When it comes to dealing with legal issues, having quality representation can be just as important as proper evidence.

But unless you live in metro Atlanta, finding a lawyer may be harder than you’d expect.

The majority of the state’s lawyers are concentrated in a small portion of Georgia. According to the State Bar of Georgia, nearly 70 percent of the state’s active lawyers are located in the five county area: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. That leaves the majority of the state to be represented by a much smaller number of lawyers.

With 72 percent of the state’s poverty population living outside metro Atlanta, finding and affording legal representation can be a difficult process for some, State Bar officials say. However, programs like Georgia Legal Services helps make finding legal representation a bit easier for low-income families in such areas.

The program provides free legal assistance to low-income Georgians who live outside the metro area. A Gainesville attorney says the local office has to limit the cases they take.

“Our largest amount of cases are public benefits cases — things like food stamps, Social Security and Medicaid, unemployment benefits. That’s almost 50 percent of our case load, with the economy the way it is, a lot of people are really hurting and need those services. A lot of those agencies are overloaded and so they make a lot of mistakes, we help to fix those mistakes,” said Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney of the program’s Gainesville office.

“We also do a lot of domestic violence work — helping people get temporary protective orders. And we represent people to try and stop foreclosures. We try to work with their lenders to work out a new agreement.”

With a 24-county coverage area and only eight attorneys, Glasbrenner says her office has to limit the types of cases that they handle to the ones that are most needed in their coverage area. Last year, her team handled 974 cases, from January through September of this year the group has already handled more than 840 cases.

“Most of the cases that we take are emergencies — someone whose Medicaid is being cut off, someone who is getting beaten up by their spouse — so they turn over pretty quickly and are very intense,” said Glasbrenner.

Although legal services staff would like to assist everyone that they can, there are some types of cases that they cannot accept: criminal and contingency cases. Glasbrenner said that one of the guidelines of their federal funding prohibits the group from accepting contingency cases because the lawyer stands to earn a fee from their representation.

“We get a lot of calls from clients who need assistance with employment discrimination cases, but those are cases we can’t accept because a private attorney could draw a fee from it too,” said Glasbrenner. “There are a couple of lawyers in Gainesville that do it, but in a lot of the rural areas that we cover there aren’t any lawyers that do it, so they have to drive to Atlanta or Athens for that kind of service.”

The legal services program has started a joint venture with the State Bar, the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project, to help low-income residents outside the metro area obtain free legal assistance. They provide support and technical assistance to pro bono projects and local bar associations around the state.

“Supporting and encouraging attorneys to engage in pro bono services in 154 mostly rural counties is challenging. Active local bar associations provide a forum for our pro bono recruitment and recognition efforts,” said Mike Monahan, project director. “As local bar leadership changes from year to year, so do local bar activities and plans, and that presents challenges to us in ensuring that pro bono issues remain on the agenda of local bar associations.”

The pro bono project has designed a Web site with resources for lawyers to “help reduce the great geographic and social distance between us and potential volunteer lawyers,” Monahan said.

“Many areas of the state where lawyers are scarce and bar associations are inactive are areas of systematic poverty,” he said.

“Our statewide volunteer lawyer support Web site is designed to broadcast our message about the civil legal needs of low-income Georgians and to provide support for lawyers who engage in pro bono work.”

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