Oklahoma commission looks to provide free legal help
By KYLE SCHWAB
Feb. 04, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A commission created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court is looking at new ways to provide free legal help to the poor in civil cases.
"The whole goal here is to allow more people to do pro bono, to help people who otherwise wouldn't have access to these legal services," said Rebecca Hamrin, a member of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission.
During the commission's recent first 2018 meeting, Hamrin said her committee is studying pro bono programs being used across the country — particularly ones that allow inactive, retired or attorneys licensed in a different state to perform pro bono work.
She said 39 states currently have a pro bono program like this in place. In nearly all of those states, a participating attorney must perform the pro bono work through a certified legal services program.
Hamrin said she moved to Oklahoma about two and a half years ago from Wisconsin, where she is actively licensed to practice law. She said it took her 18 months to get licensed in Oklahoma.
"I could have done pro bono in that year and a half if we had a program," she told The Oklahoman .
Chief Justice Douglas Combs said during the meeting that there will be many humps to overcome, starting with getting the Oklahoma Bar Association on board. Combs didn't discourage the plan but did note some concerns.
"The fact that someone is an attorney does not necessarily mean that they are qualified to give legal advice in Oklahoma," Combs said.
The commission was created by the state Supreme Court in 2014 to develop strategies for providing civil legal assistance to people of low income.
The commission also discussed plans to connect with court clerks statewide. They hope to learn how they can better help those offices deal with people without an attorney.
The commission's chair, Michael Figgins, is executive director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, a nonprofit that provides civil legal assistance to the poor.
In 2016, Hamrin joined the University of Oklahoma College of Law as an associate director of the Office of Career Development. She also leads the pro bono programs and public service initiatives at the College of Law.
Guest speaks on eviction program
The commission also invited a student from the Oklahoma City University School of Law to discuss the launching of the Pro Bono Eviction Assistance Program.
The purpose of the program is to "create a better dialogue between landlords and tenants," Aimee Majoue told the commission members.
The Oklahoma Bar Foundation funded a $65,000 grant to create the school's program. It will provide assistance to people facing eviction, advise them of their rights and help mitigate the consequences of eviction.
"The impact of an eviction on someone's record is really detrimental," Majoue said.
She said they are trying to combat family and youth homelessness. If an eviction goes on someone's record due to a judgment, that can make it difficult to obtain housing in the future. The goal of the program is to find resolutions between parties that won't tarnish a tenant's record.
The program is still in the early stages but the plan is to set up a clinic at the Oklahoma County courthouse during the eviction dockets. Majoue said they hope to begin next month after training OCU law students to assist. Lawyers and paralegals from the firm of Crowe & Dunlevy also will assist with the program.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com