Legal aid organization marks 50th year of outreach efforts

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

An anniversary that salutes a half-century of delivering legal services to those below the poverty line and a grant that more than doubled Lakeshore Legal Aid’s annual budget are milestones that give the tri-county nonprofit cause to celebrate.

To that end, Lakeshore Legal Aid (LLA) held an anniversary celebration November 17 at the Detroit Historical Museum to mark its 50th year of providing legal services to Michigan’s seniors, families, and victims of domestic violence.

In March, LLA received a $4.6 million grant from Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation.

LSC’s backing has helped LLA to become the largest legal aid nonprofit in Michigan, according to Ashley Lowe, chief executive officer of Lakeshore Legal Aid.

“We are very excited about this grant,” Lowe said. “It is designed to reach people who are below the federal poverty line. It gives us the money to serve more people in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties. I expect the number of clients we serve in the future to increase significantly.”

During the November 17 event, LLA Executive Director William Knight spoke about the importance of the grant, the organization’s history, its plans for the future, and the “goal of being community lawyers, working with low-income people in the neighborhoods in which they live and becoming part of those communities and part of the solution to their legal needs,” according to Lowe.

“This is a celebration of what we’ve done and our vision of what community lawyering means,” said Lowe. “We want to spread the news about our additional funding and the pro bono legal services we provide.”

Awarded last March, the three-year legal grant has enabled Lakeshore Legal Aid to reach 17 counties, making it the largest legal aid provider in Michigan. And with the hiring of 50 new staff members, LLA now has the capacity to serve an additional 640,000 clients.

“One of the things that has been so exciting about the past few months has been interviewing, hiring, and training our new staff attorneys,” Lowe said. “We have hired an amazing group of attorneys. Each of them is committed to public service and to providing the best legal representation for low-income individuals. They are passionate about justice and making sure our clients’ voices are heard.”

Lowe joined LLA as its CEO last May after collaborating with LLA when she developed and directed the Family Law Assistance Project at Cooley Law School and then as the program director for Advocates for Warriors at Wayne State University, an initiative that lends free legal assistance to members of the military, veterans, and their families.

“It’s good work that we do,” Lowe said. “We make such a difference in people’s lives every day. We are making sure that victims of abuse and domestic violence are safe.”

In 2015, LLA had the resources to assist more than 14,000 clients through its six offices, including the Family Law Assistance Project at Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, the Free Legal Aid Clinic at Wayne State Law School, and the Counsel and Advocacy Law (CALL) hotline in Southfield, according to Lowe.

“Since receiving the grant in March, we have opened four offices – in Warren, Southfield, Pontiac, and the Cass Corridor neighborhood in Detroit,” Lowe said. “We plan to open three more offices in the next few months for a total of 13.”

LLA’s approach to providing legal services is “holistic,” said Lowe.

“We want to be easily accessible to our clients so we can better understand the issues they are facing and their unique needs,” Lowe added.

The organization’s mission, Lowe indicated, is one that exercises “all methods of legal advocacy, training, and outreach” to empower low-income people, provide access to the legal system, and preserve the dignity of clients.

“It’s critical that we provide access to the legal system and a voice for our clients,” Lowe said. “Without free legal services, many low-income people would be denied meaningful access to the legal system and would not have the ability to have their voices heard.”

“By having as many attorneys as possible available to go to court with our clients, we are changing the balance of power in their lives by evening things out and giving them a choice,” Lowe said. “And we get to do that every day.”

 

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