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Free family law clinic available for low-income Lafayette County residents

In celebration of June being Access to Justice Month in Mississippi,

Thirty free family law clinics are scheduled across the state during June, which is Access to Justice Month.

Local bar associations and working with Access to Justice Commission and Mississippi Volunteers Lawyers Project to organize the clinics.

In Oxford, the free clinic will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. June 7 at the Lafayette County Chancery Building. All residents in the 18th Chancery District, which include Lafayette, Benton, Calhoun, Marshall and Tippah counties – who meet the income requirements may attend the clinic.

Along with the MVLP, the Oxford clinic is sponsored by the Lafayette County Chancery Court, the

Oxford Area Young Lawyers Association, the Pro Bono Initiative with the University of

Mississippi School of Law, and the Family Resource Center/Families First for Mississippi.

Individuals will receive legal court documents prepared by licensed Mississippi attorneys and legal advice on irreconcilable differences divorce, emancipation, guardianship and name change cases. Participants can also secure a simple will.

People seeking legal assistance must register in advance and be screened for eligibility based on income.

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.

“We hope to see more hours of legal services donated this month to assist our needy citizens than at any time other than during large-scale natural disasters,” said Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. “The unmet civil legal needs of the poor are a silent and less visible source of suffering. Unmet legal needs exacerbate the effects of poverty.”

Approximately 695,000 people in Mississippi, a fifth of the state’s population, live at or below the poverty level, and about 1.3 million of the impoverished and the working poor  – almost 45 percent of the state’s population – qualify for civil legal aid. Many struggle to represent themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. The clinics are designed to assist self-represented litigants in preparing to go to court.

“Pro bono work helps to bring closure to legal matters for individuals who cannot afford an attorney,” said Gayla Carpenter-Sanders, executive director and general counsel of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. “MVLP is fortunate to work with attorneys across this state who dedicate countless hours to making sure we restore hope in the lives of our underserved residents.”

Oxford attorney James B. Justice is one of those attorneys who will be assisting during the clinic.

“Part of the reason attorneys cost so much are the hours they have to put into screening clients and getting the preliminary work done,” Justice said. “These clinics take care of a lot of that so the attorneys can get right to helping the client get the correct forms completed to take to court.”

Justice said he’s honored to be one of the attorneys selected to help during the clinic.

“Just about everyone at one time needs to go to court for one of the situations being handled at the clinic,” he said. “So many can’t afford to hire an attorney. This gives them a fighting chance.”

To attend the clinic, call the Family Resource Center in Oxford at 662-638-6999 to be screened or contact Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Nicole McLaughlin at 601-960-9581 or nmclaughlin@msbar.org.