By Jen Kastner
MIDLAND- On top of a desk in a small downtown Midland office lie stacks of paper with the names of people in the basin who can't afford attorneys but need legal aid.
"We have those clients who simply cannot afford an attorney. They're working and making ends meet and really need to get our of their situations," Pete Fierro, the Equal Justice Coordinator for Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT) in Midland, said. LANWT is a federally and state funded non-profit that helps connect people with attorneys who are willing to take on their legal matters for free as long as they meet certain criteria. Now more than ever, their resources are stretched thin.
"We have two attorneys and six counties we cover. That's a lot more people than there are attorneys," Fierro said.
Those counties include Midland, Martin, Howard, Glasscock, Reagan and Upton. Combined, they have around 185,000 residents. Between just a couple of attorneys, that breaks down to nearly 93,000 folks for each attorney.
Currently, budget cuts are worsening the situation.
"We recently lost an attorney in January," Fierro said.
"That's not going to get better," Attorney, Chris McCormick, said.
McCormick has a private practice in Midland and has taken on several cases each year, pro bono.
"I believe very strongly in it. If someone needs my help, then my charge is to do what I can to help them," he explains.
He believes the State Bar of Texas is aggressively promoting more attorneys to take on these types of cases but we still need more of our local attorneys to step up to the plate.
"There's just a whole range of areas where people are not able to afford lawyers and need assistance," McCormick said.
The Midland Legal Aid office tells NewsWest 9 that about half of the roughly 300 attorneys in the city do take on occasional cases pro bono, but the demand is still far greater than the available help.
On Friday, September 28, the Midland Legal Aid Office is helping host a workshop for attorneys where they can learn more about family law. The event is free to attend with the commitment that each attending attorney will take on at least two case pro bono sometime over the next 12 months. For more information, please call (432) 686-0647 ext. 5503.