Legal professionals who donate their time and provide pro bono service fill a vital need in the community. After 21 years, Stokes Lawrence litigation paralegal Tom Makey recently “hung up his cleats” and retired from volunteer service at KCBA’s Downtown Neighborhood Legal Clinic. We asked him to share some thoughts on his experience.
Q.Why did you start volunteering at the legal clinic?
A. My first job in the legal world was working as a paralegal in a legal services office in rural New York, where I helped folks with their public entitlements, Social Security, SSI, etc. That experience brought to light how important it is for poor or financially strapped folks to have some access to legal advice. Although there are no income restrictions on clients coming to the clinic, by far people of little means frequent the clinic the most.
Q. Is there a particular matter that stands out more than the others?
A. The legal issues that clinic clients usually present really run the gamut, but some of the most common are: landlord-tenant disputes, financial issues, foreclosures, trust/estate matters or family law issues. But far and away, the most frequent issues we see with clients at the downtown clinic are folks with mental health issues.
Q. Why do you think it’s important for lawyers and paralegals to volunteer?
A. Even for people of moderate means, legal advice has become very expensive. So, access to legal advice for folks with very little money or those struggling to get by is critical and can really make a difference in someone’s life — even the half-hour consultation. It can answer a question that leads them in the right direction, give them some resources that help them in some significant way or sometimes just ease their worries about what is troubling them.
It also may tell them when it’s time to “cut their losses,” and that’s not a bad thing when it’s needed. So, it’s really important for attorneys, paralegals or other legal assistants to support that effort and access. And on top of it, it can be rewarding to the legal professional who has helped that person in some small way.
Q. What did you gain most from volunteering for so many years?
A. A deeper realization of the huge impact the lack of mental health services in this state has on the whole society at large.
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