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Weiner, who lives in Fairbanks, was in Sitka last week (Thu Sep 23, 2010) to meet with the twenty-three members of the Alaska Bar who reside here. He also visited Juneau and Ketchikan.          

Weiner says the national recession has increased the need for legal services, but reduced the ability of some clients to pay. Lawyers who assist clients for free are said to be providing “pro bono” work. Weiner says the Alaska Bar is encouraging lawyers to “unbundle” services to support clients through parts of the legal process, rather than taking on full cases which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

 “When someone’s going into court it is a very difficult thing. It’s a very emotional thing. And it’s not something they should have to sit there and deal with their emotions while they’re trying to put on their best face. It’s almost impossible. I couldn’t imagine doing it, and I do this all the time. If it were about me, I’d need someone else there. So we’re trying to encourage that, and we’re trying to facilitate people’s having as much help as they can during some of the most difficult time in their lives.”

Weiner considers bankruptcy and divorce to be among those difficult times. For those who may need a criminal defense, affordability is not necessarily an issue.

 “Fortunately, if you’re in the criminal context, Alaska has an excellent system for providing representation for those people. I think everybody who is worried that we are convicting the innocent can rest assured that we’re doing the best we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Less-costly alternatives to court battles have become more common recently. Mediation and arbitration help parties reach agreements outside the legal system.          

Surprisingly, Weiner says mediation has been embraced by the legal community. He suggests that it’s just another path to settlement.

 “And the fact is that if these people who are fighting eachother can agree on just one thing, that’s a good thing for their future, especially if you’re dealing with children and everything else. So we encourage (mediation). The reality is that people always thought mediation would take business away from lawyers. Arbitration would do the same. It never happened that way – it was the opposite. It was more business for lawyers.”

Jason Weiner took over as the president of the Alaska Bar Association in May, when he succeeded Sidney Billingslea. Weiner has been an attorney in Fairbanks for thirteen years.
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