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Barrister Bits by Debra A. Newby

Free Law Clinics

Aug 30, 2017
by Debra Newby, Newby Law

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[Note to Readers: Below is Part Three of Three: re: Free Law Clinics offered through Empire College School of Law. My “regular” Q & A column will resume next month.]   

Disability Law Clinic: 

Some of us may have experienced a physical or mental challenge that sets us back…that nasty fall that broke our shoulder, perhaps a surprise diagnosis of cancer, or (knock on wood) that inattentive driver who ran the light, resulting in broken bones and indescribable pain. Others may have been born, or later “inherited”, a life-changing condition, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or the inability to hear or see. But what happens if your medical condition is so severe that you are unable to work? Without an income flow, the proverbial downward spiral can begin, and then overcome the person…no work, no food, no home, no transportation--no hope. 

Fortunately, the Disability Services & Legal Center (“DSLC”) is alive and well. Armed with a talented and devoted cadre of attorneys, paralegals, and staff, they can help an individual travel through the maze of complex disability laws. Whether it is assistance with applying for Social Security Disability benefits, knowing your housing rights, or mobility-related issues, DSLC is here to help. For 17 years, Empire Law School has offered “clinical hours” to upper law school students to help at DSLC.   

“Our clinical program is unique in that the law student actually presents the case to the court”, comments Adam Brown, supervising attorney and Executive Director of DSLC. “The law student garners the experience of a first-year associate, from preparing the witnesses and client, submitting a brief, and arguing the case to an administrative law judge. Law school can be very abstract”, quips Adam Brown, “Our clinic pulls it all together for the law student. The law student becomes very attached to the client. They truly fight for their clients”. 

Walk-in hours are offered every Monday at 1:30 pm (excluding holidays) as an opportunity to meet with staff to field questions, set up future appointments, or to make referrals as necessary. DSCL is located at 521 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa (across from the Trek Bicycle Store).  Phone: 707-528-2745.   

Legal Aid Clinic: 

Legal Aid hold a special place in my heart. One of my first legal-related jobs was with Legal Aid in West Virginia. It was the summer between my first and second year of law school, back in 1980 when the world seemed a little simpler, but the needs of the underserved just as vital. Never before had I witnessed a people so in need, nor so grateful, in that small coal-mining community. 

Today, Legal Aid of Sonoma County serves a vital and crucial role as the gatekeeper to Justice. Under the able leadership of Ronit Rubinoff (who was recently named as “Women of the Year in Sonoma County by Rep. Mike Thompson), law students at Empire Law School can also get a glimpse of what I experienced decades ago. Law students have the opportunity to participate in court representation, interview clients, and prepare pleadings, as well as learning valuable client triage skills.   

Legal Aid predominately represents low-income residents on issues such as Restraining Orders, Elder Abuse, Landlord/Tenant (Evictions and Habitability issues) and Guardianships for abused or neglected children. Potential clients can come to Legal Aid from 9:15 to 11:30 am and 1:15 to 4:00 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, only morning hours are held (9:15 to 11:30 am). Legal Aid is located at 144 South E Street, Suite 100 in Santa Rosa. PH: 707-542-1290. Seniors can call 707-340-5610 and potential housing clients can call 707-843-4432.

As I close this three-part series of the six legal clinics manned by the law students of Empire Law School, I am reflective on just how lucky we are to have this valuable resource in our community. Given the statewide problem of a steady decline in court funding  more pressure is placed on the local legal clinics. Perhaps the Dean of Empire Law School, Mike Mullins, sums it up best, “Sooner or later there will be more people coming to our clinics to achieve the needs they need to achieve. My biggest worry is that people will lose their faith in Justice”.   

With the activity of devoted law students, under the supervision of licensed and experienced local attorneys, I suspect (and hope) that the underserved will have a fighting chance to get the Justice they deserve.   

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