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Free family law clinic set for June 7 in Oxford Residents of Benton, Calhoun, Lafayette, Marshall and Tippah counties may attend

May 9, 2018


A free family law clinic will be held June 7 in Oxford to assist north Mississippi residents with uncontested divorce, guardianships, name change, emancipation and simple wills.

Residents of Benton, Calhoun, Lafayette, Marshall and Tippah counties who meet low income qualifications may seek legal help at the Lafayette County Chancery Courthouse on June 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. The Chancery Courthouse is at 300 N. Lamar Boulevard in Oxford.

The June 7 Pro Se Day for the 18th Chancery District is one of many scheduled across the state. The Mississippi Legislature declared June as Access to Justice Month, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. asked all chancery courts to offer free family law clinics to aid low-income people in resolving family law issues. All 20 of the state’s chancery court districts have scheduled pro se clinics throughout the summer and fall.

This link includes pro se clinics scheduled throughout the state from June through November: https://courts.ms.gov/newsite2/Legal/CivilLegal.php

Low-income people who qualify for assistance at the family law clinic on June 7 in Oxford will receive help with uncontested matters including divorce, legal name change, guardianship of children, emancipation and preparation of a simple will.

The deadline to register for the clinic in Oxford is June 4. People seeking legal assistance must register in advance and be screened for eligibility based on income. Registration and screening will be done by the Family Resource Center in Oxford. Call 662-638-6999 and ask to be screened for the Lafayette Pro Se Legal Clinic.

Eligibility to attend a clinic is limited to people whose income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, that would be an annual income of $24,280 or less for an individual; an annual income of $32,920 or less for a two-person household; $41,560 or less for a family of three; or $50,200 or less for a family of four, based on the 2018 federal poverty guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Chancellor Robert Q. Whitwell of Oxford said, “As a judge, I think we ought to help litigants who don’t have the funds to pay a lawyer to do this. We need to make our courts available and more accessible to them. I think this is one way to do that.”

Chief Justice Waller said, “It is vitally important for all citizens to have access to the courthouse. Mississippi has one of the highest rates of poverty in the United States and these legal clinics allow meaningful access with the assistance of volunteer lawyers. I very much appreciate the efforts of local lawyers in giving their time to this critical effort, and I urge lawyers across the state to follow their lead.”

Nine attorneys have volunteered to provide services at the free legal clinic, said Catie Hester, president of the Oxford Area Young Lawyers Association. Law students from the Pro Bono Initiative of the University of Mississippi School of Law will assist.

“The Oxford Area Young Lawyers Association is excited to participate,” Hester said.

Attorneys will provide limited legal advice, draft legal documents and give instructions about how to file the documents and how to pursue the matter in court. The attorneys will provide assistance at the clinic, but will not accompany the litigants to later court dates and will not provide continuing legal representation.

The pro se clinic is designed to assist self-represented litigants in preparing to go to court. Persons receiving services at the clinic are expected to gain enough of an understanding of what to do to be able to represent themselves in court. The legal clinic is a pro se clinic, which means the individuals who attend and receive services are to handle their legal matters in court on their own.

Self-represented litigants struggle to prepare documents that meet all the requirements for Chancery Court, Judge Whitwell said. “They try to pull forms from different sources,” he said. Forms not specific to Mississippi law may not be accepted. “They need help. They don’t really know the procedure and they don’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer. I think that’s why this clinic will be beneficial. People can get some help from lawyers who come in and give their time.”

Pro Se Day is a cooperative effort of the Access to Justice Commission, the 18th District Chancery Court, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Pro Bono Initiative of the University of Mississippi School of Law, and the Family Resource Center/Families First for Mississippi.

For more information, contact the Family Resource Center in Oxford at 662-638-6999, or Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Nicole McLaughlin at 601-960-9581 or nmclaughlin@msbar.org.

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