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Women's Center pro-bono legal clinic aids needy community members

Next sessions scheduled for Tuesday

Property of the Cavalier Daily,
Property of the Cavalier Daily,

The Women’s Center will host a free legal clinic next Tuesday for local lawyers to offer pro bono legal advice to University employees and members of the Charlottesville community.

Clinics have been held once a month this semester. Interested persons typically seek advice regarding domestic violence, divorce and custody disputes. Recently, there has been an increase in clients with concerns regarding immigration issues.

“Several years ago, staff at the Women’s Center saw a need for more pro bono legal advice to be provided for community members and created the legal clinic,” Legal Clinic Supervisor Sarah Steele said. “Through the efforts of our interns, the legal clinic has doubled in size in the past year.”

Legal clinic requests have quadrupled, from an average of three to 12 requests per month. To respond to this increase, the Women’s Center staff now schedules more lawyers for each clinic to keep up with the number of clients who require assistance.

“We now schedule two attorneys per legal clinic, which provides eight half-hour appointments per month for potential clients,” Steele said. “Clients have a half-hour appointment with a local attorney who provides them with legal counsel regarding the client’s issue.”

Though it is held at the Women’s Center, the legal clinic is open to both men and women.

The Virginia Bar Association encourages lawyers in Virginia to participate in pro bono legal work, and attorneys are able to do that through the legal clinic.

“My firm has always, even before I was a member of the firm, been involved in pro bono legal services to women in need here in the Charlottesville area,” said Kyle McNew, an attorney at MichieHamlett in Charlottesville. “The Women’s Clinic provides me with an opportunity to discharge my ethical duties to provide pro bono legal services.”

McNew has volunteered at the legal clinic multiple times.

“There’s always a need for legal counsel and a lot of times the people who are most in need are the ones who can least afford it,” McNew said. “That’s why the legal profession in general is encouraged to provide pro bono legal services. The goal is to help.”

Similar services are available to students at Student Legal Services, which is funded through student activities fees and provides assistance for crime victims, criminal charges, no-fault divorce, insurance, landlord/tenant, name changes, traffic violations and wills among other legal matters. For other issues, Student Legal Services can recommend and refer students to outside attorneys.

Lester Wilson, director of Student Legal Services, said many students approach him for help with landlord-tenant issues and criminal issues. Older students sometimes seek help with issues similar to those addressed at the Women’s Center.

“We do counsel usually graduate students on domestic relations matters which include divorce,” Wilson said.

Even in cases Wilson is not permitted to handle, such as legal disputes between students, he is still available to explain the court system and provide advice about the law.

As with services at the Women’s Center Legal Clinic, Student Legal Services is available free of charge, as long as University students have paid the student activity fee. For students who have not paid the student activity fee, the same services are available for a $10 consultation fee.