Giving back: Local lawyers’ group has raised more than $100,000 for community workWilliamsport Sun-Gazette features LLA Foundation on front page:

Giving back: Local lawyers’ group has raised more than $100,000 for community work

By Katie Prince, Sun-Gazette Staff

It was a goal set almost five years ago by a few local attorneys: raise $100,000 that will go toward pro bono work and community programs aimed at educating citizens about the law.

The campaigns led to contributions by area lawyers that pushed the Lycoming Law Association Foundation over its goal, and now, the foundation is preparing to put the donations to work.

“We are waiting for the community to come to us with their ideas,” Attorney John M. Humphrey said.

A partner at Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Harris, Waters and Waffenschmidt, Humphrey last year was president of the Lycoming Law Association.

The association’s current president, William Nichols, said that some ideas already have come to the foundation’s attention, despite the fact that the campaign is still up and running.

The men hope the foundation will fund an initiative by Wise Options to educate law enforcement officials on Protection From Abuse order enforcement, Nichols said. Another plan that already is in effect is funding to James V. Brown Library for a legal help section.

The opportunities are limitless, they explained, ranging from scholarship programs to expansion of the county’s mock trial competitions.

The principal of the endowment fund is to be kept intact, according to Nichols, and hopefully will be substantially increased in coming years.

More than 50 local attorneys have made contributions, and the Lycoming Law Association has, in certain circumstances, provided matching funds up to $5,000.

In 1989, the state legislature lifted restrictions on attorneys’ trustee accounts, allowing them to accrue interest. Shortly thereafter, a group of lawyers here formed the foundation, led by Nichols and former President Judge Thomas Raup.

“Pound for pound,” the Lycoming County foundation rivals any other of its kind in the state, with more money than a similar organization on the state level, Humphrey said.

When the foundation was begun in 1989, the money was used primarily to fund legal services, which provide assistance to indigent clients in civil matters.

When it comes to pro bono work, Lycoming County leads the state. Several area law firms boast 100 percent participation in the county’s pro bono referral program.

In May 2004, the Lycoming County Law Association was awarded the Louis J. Goffman Award, which recognizes outstanding pro bono services relative to the amount of bar members.

There are about 200 lawyers in Lycoming County that belong to the state bar, said Jessica Engel, the law association’s executive director. More than 95 percent of those attorneys consistently participate in the pro bono program.

“Lawyers in this area volunteer a huge amount of their time,” Engel said. Most of the work is provided through North Penn Legal Services.

Engel seems determined to shatter the myth that lawyers are villains — especially area lawyers, who have been recognized by the state for their diligent work for the community.

On Friday, the association hosted “Law Day” at the County Courthouse. Students of all age groups were asked to either draw pictures or write an essay on varying topics, including “What limits should be applicable to the treatment of a prisoner in the current war on terror?” and younger students were asked to reason whether a child should be able to wear a T-shirt that reads “I hate President Bush” to school.

The association also sends attorneys to area high schools to discuss legal issues with students preparing to become young adults.

“Most lawyers are very conscientious,” Engel said.

Section: News Date Posted: 5/2/2005

As appearing in Monday - May 2, 2005 edition of The Sun-Gazette