Lawyers helping - new attorneys, retirees make a difference at DMBA Foundation legal clinic

On Jan. 28, relatively new attorneys and retired lawyers alike gathered to give access to justice to underserved Detroiters during the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation's monthly legal clinic.

The clinics, which take place on the fourth Thursday of every month, are a project of the DMBAF,  the Wayne County Self-Help Center, the Third Circuit Court, and the Wayne County Legal Services Consortium. During the events indigent clients are able to seek help on a wide variety of issues including family law, landlord-tenant issues, and insurance claims.

The volunteer attorneys who donated their time during January's clinic were motivated to serve by a variety of factors.

For Klaudia Nikolli, an associate at Kitch, the inspiration was personal.

“My parents are immigrants, and they needed legal help when they were starting out in the US,” Nikolli said. “I'm here to pay the help they received forward.”

But while her primary inspiration was personal, Nikolli added that volunteering at the clinic also has professional benefits.

“These clinics are a great opportunity, particularly for newer attorneys, to experience interaction with clients and to be challenged in new areas,” she said. Nikoli added that she is herself fairly new to the field, having been in practice for roughly a year and a half.

Retirees John Quinn and Terry Wash were also on hand to share their legal expertise and experience.

Quinn, who formerly served the city of Detroit in high-profile cases involving police officers, said he attended because he likes to stay useful. Wash, who is semi-retired, added that, “I did legal aid work years ago, and now that I have more time, I wanted to give back again.”

In addition to retirees and relatively new attorneys, one of the lawyers who chose to serve at the January clinic is actually in the process of leaving the practice of law.

Mary Kosmalski is currently pursuing a Masters degree in counseling after practicing for twenty years.

“I want to keep my hand in the legal field, and these clinics are a good opportunity to do that,” she said.

According to DMBA Foundation Access to Justice Administrator Dennis Donahue, the Foundation's legal clinics are intentionally structured so it doesn't matter whether volunteers are new to the field or old hands – or whether or not they specialize in the kinds of cases that a given client might bring to them.

“The only thing volunteers need to bring is their common sense, their life experience, and their legal knowledge,” he explained. “We always have someone on hand or on call from the Friend of the Court to help with specific questions, and I am on site during the clinics and available in the rare case when a volunteer is faced with an unfamiliar situation.”

“Our goal with these clinics is to serve the clients who come to us – but also to provide a positive pro bono experience to every attorney who attends.”

In addition to serving clients and attorneys alike, the legal clinics are a big boon to the court system.

According to 3rd Circuit Presiding Judge – Family Division Kathleen McCarthy, “The Wayne County Circuit Court serves an increasingly high number of pro se litigants in the family division. Recent reports suggest that 48 percent of all Michigan filings were filed by pro se litigants, 68 percent of cases have at least one unrepresented litigant, and 42 percent of all divorces have no attorney involvement at all. Legal aid clinics are crucial in filling the gap for these under-served children and parents of Detroit and the rest of Southeastern Michigan.”

The next clinic will take place on Feb. 25 from 11:30 am – 3 pm in downtown Detroit. Contact Dennis Donahue at: ddonahue@detroitlawyer.org for more information.

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