When Billie Tarascio saw the statistics, she knew she had to do something. Eight in 10 Americans who want an attorney can't afford it.
"That's a problem," says Tarascio, an attorney and a member of St. Mary Parish in Eugene.
Three years ago, she started "Modern Law," a new kind of firm. Instead of shelling out for a retainer, clients pay as they go. Tarascio and her team can prepare people to represent themselves, or give full-service. To make it work, Modern Law takes on a high volume of cases. The majority of this a la carte work is in domestic violence, child custody, divorce, adoption and child support.
"Trying to balance affordability and paying attorneys competitive wages is difficult," Tarascio says. "But it's doable."
Most of the world's attorneys work for wealthy people and wealthy companies. Tarascio, who has also led youth music ministry band at St. Mary's, felt a deep faith-based urge to serve people in need. Doing pro-bono work was not helping her family budget, but the desire to help regular people abided.
"It was a calling," Tarascio says. "We have a moral directive to live out life the way God wants us to."
Tarascio also wanted to be able to spend time with her family, which can be hard for some attorneys in traditional firms. She wants that for the five lawyers on her staff, too. Modern law has offices in Eugene and Mesa, Ariz.
Tarascio sees room for growth, perhaps in Portland.
"There is still such a large number of people who don't have access to services," she says.
On this day, a woman who works in a clothing store comes into the office seeking child support from an ex-boyfriend. Tarascio gives her options — the lawyers can give her the paperwork and lessons on how to file it in 30 minutes, or can do the paperwork for the client in about two hours.
Tarascio, who lives much of the time in Arizona, is expecting her third child. She and her husband now have boys age 8 and 5 and attend St. Timothy Parish in Mesa.
Tarascio is also passionate about helping parents of children with learning differences get the services they need in schools.