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Letters to the 107th Congress

October 22, 2001

Dear Conferee:

I understand that you are in the midst of conference negotiations for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002. I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to express our support for Section 574 of the House version of the bill (H.R. 2586).

During the ABA's Annual Meeting in August, we adopted policy in favor of amending Section 1588 of Title 10 U.S.C. expressly to permit the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Secretary of Transportation to accept voluntary legal services. The ABA policy also would protect legal professionals from liability while they are in the midst of providing military legal assistance services. A provision to achieve this result is included as Section 574 of H.R. 2586.

Over the past several years, there have been increased military deployments overseas and a reduction in available military legal staff and resources. Additional deployments are now occurring as our Nation carries out the military campaign against those who perpetrated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. As a result, the need for civil legal assistance in the military has increased and will continue to do so. Most of those serviced by military legal systems are low-income. Unfortunately, there has been insufficient provision of civil legal assistance for those in the military, due to substantial budget and personnel cuts. Failure to supplement existing legal services has led to the serious curtailment of either the scope of services offered or those served, or both.

Pursuant to federal law, free legal assistance worldwide is provided for military personnel and their family members on an "as resources permit" basis. Military legal assistance for low-income clients is provided at the discretion of the service Secretary and often must be supplemented by existing resources provided by community legal services programs. Due to resource limitations, civil legal assistance often receives low priority by the military legal staff.

Both the organized bar and the retired military legal community are eager to assist active duty military attorneys by supplementing available resources with voluntary legal services. Yet while Section 1588 allows the service Secretaries to accept voluntary services in many areas (e.g. medical, dental, nursing, religious, housing, library), the statute does not expressly provide for the acceptance of voluntary legal services. Section 574 would address this concern by adding legal services to the list of voluntary services that can be accepted by the service Secretaries.

Volunteers who provide the services currently listed in Section 1588 of Title 10 U.S.C. are treated as employees of the federal government while performing voluntary services, and are generally exempted from tort claims; instead, the United States accepts liability on the volunteer's behalf. Section 574 would provide exemption from legal malpractice liability for those who provide voluntary legal services. During this time when our members of the armed forces are risking their lives and leaving their families in order to protect our freedom, we must provide them with the proper assistance to put their legal affairs in order. The Bar stands ready to provide such assistance, if these impediments to doing so can be removed.

As the world's largest voluntary professional association, with over 400,000 members, the American Bar Association urges you and your colleagues to support Section 574 of H.R. 2586.


Robert E. Hirshon
President, American Bar Association

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