'I wish she was my lawyer': Volunteer attorneys serve 20 clients at monthly Detroit Legal Services Clinic

On April 25, six volunteer lawyers working for a program initiated by the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation were on hand to make the legal system a little less confusing for twenty clients who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford access to counsel.

“Google has given me a lot of stress,” said one client, who came to the Detroit Legal Services Clinic for advice with her custody case. “Meeting with the attorney today cleared up a lot of the nonsense for me.”

“Those of us who can’t afford an attorney end up running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” she continued. “My issue is serious, it’s stressful, and this clinic has alleviated a lot of the unnecessary stress of not knowing what to do next.”

Troy Atkins of Whiting Law; then solo-practitioner Melissa Brown; retired attorney Tim Guerriero; Sarah Luke from Wayne State University; and Klaudia Nikolli and Yasir Muhammad, both from Kitch, were on hand to help clients with a wide range of issues. (Brown has since joined Lakeshore Legal Aid.)

Judging from the responses of the clients who met with them, the attorneys’ time was deeply appreciated.

Another client, who came to the clinic seeking help with two separate issues, called the experience “...excellent.”

“The attorney I met with was awesome,” she said, “and her advice was just what I needed to get me through this piece of my case. I wish she was my lawyer!”

Atkins, who passed the bar in November and who was volunteering at the clinic for the first time, said that as a new attorney roughly sixty percent of his work day is taken up by writing.

According to Atkins, the clinic was an opportunity to get practice with client interaction.

In addition, Atkins said that the clinic gave him a rare chance to help others.

“As an attorney, we have an opportunity to serve people, and I feel that it’s important to give back,” he said. “I know I was able to make a difference — the clients I spoke with were all genuinely happy to have someone helping them.”

Brown, another first-time clinic volunteer, said that in addition to a chance to serve, volunteering at the clinics is an excellent learning opportunity.

“The best way to learn is to work through real-life situations with real clients,” she said. “I found out things today that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

A long-time clinic volunteer, Guerriero told the younger attorneys that advising indigent clients doesn’t take an expert knowledge of the legal issues involved with their cases.

“Being here isn’t about dispensing great pearls of legal wisdom,” he said. “It’s about listening.”

The Detroit Legal Services Clinics, which take place on the fourth Thursday of every month, are a project of the DMBA Foundation, the Wayne County Self-Help Center, the Third Circuit Court, and the Wayne County Legal Resources Consortium. The clinics serve clients who would otherwise be unable to access legal counsel. Attorneys who volunteer are asked only to provide advice on-site; they are not expected to provide continuing services to the clients they meet with at any given event.

The next Detroit Legal Services Clinic will take place on Thursday, May 26 from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Penobscot Building in Detroit. For more information or to volunteer contact Access to Justice Coordinator Dennis Donahue: ddonahue@detroitlawyer.org.