IU law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta celebrated its fourth annual fundraiser Wednesday to raise money for Indiana Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm that gives legal advice to low income Indiana residents.
Although the event, which is a black tie dinner, only raised a few thousand dollars, Phi Alpha Delta president Ryan Cortopassi said it more importantly raises awareness about the resource, especially for IU students who tend to not interact with low-income families in the community.
“Our campus tends to be a bubble sometimes,” Cortopassi said.
Indiana Legal Services, which is partially funded by government subsidies, is the largest provider of free civil legal assistance to low-income families in Indiana, according to its website.
Cortopassi, a volunteer at ILS, said the organization is vital to a significant part of the Bloomington community.
When some think about legal representation, Cortopassi said, they remember the Sixth Amendment and how it guarantees citizens the right to a lawyer. But this only applies to criminal cases.
The law generally does not recognize a constitutional right to a lawyer in civil cases. So those who can’t afford one often go without and can’t properly defend themselves in court.
ILS helps these families.
Cortopassi said before he started studying law, he thought civil cases were only for less important issues, such as defamation.
“It seems like something low-income people wouldn’t have to deal with,” he said.
But civil cases can involve anything from domestic abuse to child services to even just fighting for basic needs like housing and employment.
Tom Frohman is one of a handful of attorneys at the Bloomington branch of Indiana Legal Services, which serves 14 counties including Monroe. He said the organization struggles to have enough resources.
“No matter how many attorneys we have, we wouldn’t be able to care for everyone in the area who needs help,” he said. “But we do our best.”
That’s where the philanthropy comes in to help raise money and awareness.
Despite the limited resources, the attorneys work to provide legal help with a variety of issues.
Most cases boil down to preserving basic needs, Frohman said, but this can be presented in many ways.
Sometimes the attorneys will help their constituents battle suspended driver’s licenses to find a way to legally get back on the road. It may seem unnecessary, he said, but in reality, if they don’t have a legal driver’s license, they can’t go to work and may not have enough income to survive.
Frohman said he always tries to avoid going to court, if possible, because it is time-consuming and complex.
As a volunteer at the Bloomington branch, Cortopassi said he has become more empathetic because of it. He’s interned at a big law firm before, and he said it’s easy to spot the differences between the two.
“Being an attorney is more than just representing big clients and making a lot of money,” he said.