50 years of service at Wisconsin Judicare

“I felt hopeless until they stepped in.”

“This service kept me from becoming homeless and bankrupt.”

By Beth Richlen, Development Director, Wisconsin Judicare

Wisconsin JudicareFor 50 years, Wisconsin Judicare has provided legal services to individuals like these in northern Wisconsin. From Stevens Point to Superior, from Hudson to Marinette, and everywhere in between, the low-income residents of northern Wisconsin face difficult challenges, including equal access to justice. 

Questions about how to obtain the return of a security deposit or appeal the termination of FoodShare benefits can mean the difference between having a home and becoming homeless or feeding your family and going hungry. Services such as Judicare have stepped in to provide some relief. On average, Judicare receives over 4,700 applications for service each year. Of those, we only have funding to serve less than 25 percent of those who apply. A  significant number of applicants seek assistance with more than one type of legal problem.

Of those who receive services, almost 80 percent receive advice and brief services. Advice cases mean the applicant has access to an attorney who provides direction about how to handle their legal issue in mediation, circuit court or administrative court. Brief services can include the drafting of forms, such as wills or powers of attorney, or calling third parties to resolve simple issues. The remaining 20 percent who receive extended service have an attorney assigned to their case who can represent them in negotiations, administrative hearings and court proceedings. Cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, eviction from subsidized housing, and bankruptcy filings to avoid garnishment, etc., are Judicare’s highest priority matters.

Judicare provides services to clients through a somewhat unique model that combines the use of staff attorneys in its office in Wausau and payments to private attorneys across northern and central Wisconsin. These private attorneys agree to participate in the Judicare program and receive only a small fee for each hour spent on a case. In most cases, these fees represent less than 25 percent of an attorney’s regular hourly rate. Judicare also also has some private attorneys who provide legal services to clients without receiving even the modest fees that Judicare pays. Together, we serve eligible low-income residents of Wisconsin’s northern 33 counties and 11 federally recognized Indian tribes

To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we set up the 50-50-50 challenge that asks 50 lawyers to sign up to do 50 hours of pro bono service for clients in northern wisconsin in time for our 50th anniversary. You are welcome to join our celebration on October 22 in Wausau.

Judicare strongly believes in using technology and innovative legal services delivery in its efforts to increase the number of clients it can competently serve every year. To that end, Judicare created the first pro bono online legal advice clinic in Wisconsin that was recently expanded statewide by the Access to Justice Commission (www.wilegaladvice.org ). Judicare is currently developing an online intake and triage system that will allow clients to apply for services 24/7 and will prioritize cases that meet the firm’s internal case priorities or are under a tight deadline. The triage system will also be able to remove nonpriority cases more quickly and offer consistent, reliable referrals to those we are unable to serve.

We have grown quite a bit over the last 50 years, and we hope to do so for another 50. Our general mission has remained the same:  help those in need obtain access to justice and resolve their legal issues.

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