Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lawyers to offer free legal advice

When the economy took its turn for the worse, organizers of a program that provides people with free legal services expected to see more demand, but when the opposite happened, they decided to try and make the program more accessible.

For years the First Saturday Legal Clinic has been helping people with financial needs get access to legal help. The program, a service of the Bay County Bar Association, provides people who meet income qualifications with access to attorneys for civil matters like foreclosure, Social Security or immigration issues.

"We wanted to make it more known…and we wanted to make it more accessible," said Mike Dickey, a member of the bar association's Pro Bono Legal Committee.

As the name suggests, the clinic is available without an appointment on the first Saturday of eachmonth (except this month, when it will postponed until April 14 because of the holiday). In the past, clients would need a referral from Legal Services of North Florida, which screens potential clients to make sure they meet income requirements.

The income limit is up to 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which range from $13,963 a year for an individual to $48,613 for a family of eight.

Beginning thismonth, the program will screen potential clients at the door, which they hope will attract people. Ideally, a person could show up and sit down with a lawyer for a consultation, but the clinics are staffed by volunteer attorneys, so a client with a need for a specialized service might have to make do with a referral.

"That's certainly the goal, that everybody who walks through the door will talk to a lawyer," Dickey said.

There are three types of cases the clinic doesn't offer help with: criminal cases, juvenile cases anddelinquency cases. There are already publicly available options for clients in need of those services, said Dede Rowan, who also a member of the Pro Bono Legal Committee.

By Chris Olwell, The News Herald Writer

Source: The News Herald Writer

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