June 04, 2009

Attorneys, Staff Help Launch Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers Program

Seven minutes. Indiana National Guard (INNG) personnel received an average of seven minutes of legal assistance for civil legal representation as part of the benefits they receive with INNG service. The initial gap between the legal needs and existing legal resources arose because available military legal support is accessible only at military bases located hundreds of miles from Indiana-based soldiers' homes. This gap between legal supply and demand yawned wider as INNG units were deployed overseas in the Middle East beginning in 2007.

To address this unmet need, Baker & Daniels has collaborated with the Indiana National Guard to develop the Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers legal service program. This pro bono initiative provides legal assistance and resources to thousands of deployed and recently returned members of the Indiana National Guard and their eligible family members.

Baker & Daniels' service has taken many forms:

  • Firm lawyers and administrators, including Jennett Hill, Brita Horvath and Carl Pebworth, helped create a referral process for eligible service members and their families through the Indiana National Guard and a statewide network of attorneys to address those needs, working with the Indiana State Bar Association, Indianapolis Bar Association and other local bar associations, the Indiana Bar Foundation and the Indiana Pro Bono Commission.
  • Streamlining the referrals, Katrina Dittmer, a manager in the firm's IT Department, designed a Web site for the program, which matches or identifies eligible soldiers or family members with a volunteer lawyer. Deployed Indiana National Guard personnel register their legal needs and apply for assistance online; attorneys also register online. Lawyers from all corners of the state have responded and registered with the program and accepted pro bono cases. The firm continues to oversee the Web site management services.
  • A team of the firm's legal and administrative staff, including Katrina Dittmer, Carol Drumwright, Cheryl Lewallen, Robin Osbourn, Tammy Rutledge, Betsy Smith and Geoff Taylor, coordinate and administer the referral process, ensuring that successful soldier/lawyer referrals are made.

Additionally, Baker & Daniels' lawyers have represented dozens of service members and their families since INNG personnel deployed overseas in 2007, addressing a wide range of legal needs. As one example of the firm's efforts in this area, in early 2008, a young soldier suffered catastrophic injuries when his vehicle was struck by an IED that killed others who were in the vehicle. Upon returning to Indiana, Guard officers were concerned because the soldier's housing was not suitable for the severely disabled soldier or his young family. Associate John Fleming and Partner Rob Wynne represent the soldier in addressing his long-term housing needs and are assisting with the family's transition into appropriate and safe living conditions. John visited the soldier at his home in Northern Indiana with Major General Martin Umbarger, the INNG's commanding officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dickerson, INNG's Judge Advocate General to assess the soldier's circumstances and continues to work closely with the INNG on this matter. 

Special thanks and recognition are due to the team of lawyers representing every Baker & Daniels Indiana office who generously volunteered to represent Guard personnel and their families: Amy Cornell, Dustin DeNeal, Shawn Doorhy, Ryan Hamilton, John Keeler, Bob Kistler, Erin Lewis, Madonna McGrath, Pat Miller, Kevin Mitchell, Rob Moreland, Matt Morris, April Risk, Jeffery Stovall and David Wagner.

The layered legal and administrative roles that the firm played in developing the Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers program are unique for a project of its kind in the state. It is important to note that without the care and concern of the Indiana National Guard for its soldiers, a program like this would have been impossible to establish. Baker & Daniels remains committed to the Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers program and the other veteran and military-related services that the firm supports.

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