Madison law firm provides much-needed legal help for low-income clients

By: Madeline Anderson Email
By: Madeline Anderson Email

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 --- 10:45 p.m.

If you take a look around Jennifer Binkley's office, you'll see there's no shortage of cases.

"We received 1,100 intakes last year, but we only handled 400," Binkley said. She's the managing attorney for Community Justice Inc., a non-profit law firm in Madison that represents a growing number of low-to-moderate income clients, mostly for civil cases.

"You don't think it's going to happen to you, but it's kind of like one of those things, almost everybody knows somebody or has gone through a divorce," Binkley said.

"My life changed completely," said one of Binkley's clients who doesn't want to be indentified. She says she's currently going through a bitter divorce and custody battle.

"I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband and I had had our son diagnosed with autism and we were kind of trying ot figure out what to do," the woman said. "I found out about a school he could go to where he would be socializing with other children. My husband decided that he didn't like that idea... I tried to enroll him in the school and I had a lot of my funding cut by my husband."

With no job at the time and her husband controlling her money, she says she would have never been able to afford a lawyer had it not been for CJI.

"I would still be at the house... and feel very trapped. I would not be able to be indepentdent without them. And I am very grateful to them for what they've done for me," she said.

"I believe families are stronger when they come out of this if they have good legal representation," Binkley said. "So that means long-term, less contact with the courts, less conflict at home, obviously on a personal level. But the less conflict there is for children growing up through divorce the better."

Since CJI only charges about one-third the market rate, it must rely on volunteers, donations and grants. That's where the public comes in. CJI's annual summer fundraising event is this week, and it's a chance for folks to show their support for the support Binkley and others provide.

"It is an important fundraiser for us because every time we can get this money in, we can make sure that we can keep our fees low and we can also provide--and do provide--mini grants to our clients," Binkley said. "So even though we may have billed them, we can use money that we've set aside from these types of funrdaisers and offset their bill."

The fundraiser is called "Bridge the Gap to Justice." It's Thursday from 5-7 p.m. at the Brink Lounge. There will be food, a silent auction and music.

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