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Posted on May 18, 2017
Access to affordable legal services throughout South Dakota is decreasing at an alarming rate while increasing vulnerability and denying justice for children, adults and families who are struggling to navigate a daunting system of laws, regulations and government process, according to Taneeza Islam Rotary guest speaker.

In a presentation titled “JUSTICE – But Not for All,” Sioux Falls attorney and Bush Leadership Fellow Taneeza Islam addressed the Downtown Rotary Club of Sioux Falls on Monday, May 15.  Islam, a civil rights advocate and social entrepreneur, explained her views about the breadth of the problem, its human toll and its detriment to a civil society.

“Lack of access to legal services is a community health crisis in South Dakota,” said Islam. “South Dakota ranks in the nation’s bottom quarter for access to legal services and is one of a handful of states which does not fund civil legal aid. We must find innovative solutions to this age-old problem and increase the quality of life for every South Dakotan.” 
“Our system of obtaining justice is based heavily upon one’s ability to pay a lawyer,” Islam said. “This can be a decision between custody of one’s children or going back to an abusive relationship; getting on the road to recovery from addiction while finding yourself in thousands of dollars of debt with no affordable access to file for bankruptcy, leaving you vulnerable to your vice; and leaving one stuck in discriminatory work environments because you have mouths to feed at home. These situations are normal daily occurrences and having next to no access to affordable attorneys or adequate resources to represent oneself in court is taking a toll on our social services, business, schools and community.” 

Islam is a first-generation American Muslim born and raised in Michigan to immigrant parents from Bangladesh.  She earned a BA from Albion College, an MA in Intercultural Management and Diversity Leadership from the School for International Training and a JD from Hamline Law School with a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution.  Islam moved to Sioux Falls in 2012, received a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship in 2013, and started her private immigration law practice in the same year.  Through her Bush Fellowship, she developed and directed a two-year pilot program called CLIP, to incubate new social justice lawyers.  Based on data from the pilot, it is evolving to the first non-profit law firm in South Dakota.

Islam is licensed to practice law in Minnesota and South Dakota and serves on the State Bar Committees of Diversity and Inclusion, Strategic Planning, Legal Services and is co-chair of the Immigration Committee.  She also is a member of the steering committee of LEAD and a mentor through EmBe’s women’s leadership program.  Islam volunteers her time to empower and advocate on behalf of immigrant refugees and Muslim communities in the state. 

Islam was named among “Top 17 People to Watch in 2017” by the Argus Leader and recently was awarded Woman of Year in Law and Government by Embe. Islam and her husband, Dr. Tim Dillard, a hospitalist at Sanford USD Medical Center, are parents of two boys, ages 6 and 2.
 
Program Highlights May 15, 2017:
  • Ms. Islam has partnered with Augustana and the Calvary Catholic Episcopal Church to found the Prairie Law and Justice Center, as a non-profit law firm. Its purpose is to serve vulnerable communities by providing access to affordable legal services.  
  • In the struggling middle class, access to legal expertise has become a health crises.
  • SD has 2,000 lawyers and ranks in the nation's bottom quarter for access to legal services.  The state does not fund legal aid. Single parents, abused persons, evicted people, divorced people and those in debt cannot afford legal advice.
  • Nationwide there are 1.2 million lawyers; there are only 6,953 civil legal aid attorneys. 
  • Contact info:  605-338-3557; taneeza@tislamlawoffice.com