Aid group helps those with legal needs

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published August 17, 2018

WAYNE COUNTY — Those facing legal matters who don’t have the resources to properly confront them may have an ally they were unaware of: Lakeshore Legal Aid.

Lakeshore Legal Aid is a group that takes on pro bono cases for those who cannot afford attorneys. It has a full-time legal staff, but it also gets significant help from lawyers from other firms who take on pro bono cases on behalf of Lakeshore clients.

“Our mission is to ensure we have justice for those who may otherwise not be in a position to obtain it for themselves,” explained Tracie Boyd, a spokesperson for Lakeshore Legal Aid. “We want to provide a voice for those society normally overlooks and does not give a voice to. We assist members of our community who are low income or struggling, and specifically often help senior citizens.”

Issues that Lakeshore takes on include eviction defense; tenants’ rights; mortgage and tax foreclosures; domestic violence survivor support; divorce assistance; conservatorship and guardianship assistance; consumer matters, such as bankruptcy, debt collection and credit reporting; and other areas, such as disability benefits, wills, power of attorney and the expungement of records.

The organization has been around for 52 years, yet many at Lakeshore feel it is a resource that a significant portion of the population it serves is unaware of.

“Oftentimes, it’s difficult to reach the individuals who could benefit from our services. Oftentimes, the weight of the poverty struggle is so heavy that it’s difficult to ask for assistance and to identify what your particular assistance needs are,” Boyd said. “It’s very difficult, for instance, to make it to court, so you aren’t going to end up on the street, if you don’t have a car or can’t get time off work without losing your job.”

Lakeshore Legal Aid has 14 offices throughout southeastern Michigan, four of which serve Wayne County. The closest to Harper Woods and Detroit’s east side is the firm’s Cass Corridor office at 2727 Second Ave., Suite 1. It serves people in Detroit, Hamtramck, Harper Woods and Highland Park.

“We do a fair amount of landlord-tenant work in the city,” Boyd said. “We do a lot of public benefits work and represent people who have been denied public assistance or have been cut off from their public assistance. We have found that due to the high volume that Michigan Department of Health and Human Services workers have, a lot of cases slip through the cracks. 

“We assist with a lot of education issues and assisting special needs students in the public school system, and defend against collections cases. Many of them will be trying to collect on old debts, which have expired, often from seniors who don’t understand the debt has expired.”

Boyd also said rental scams are an issue that she and her colleagues have been seeing a lot in eastern Wayne County. She advised caution and to seek professional assistance whenever considering a property rental or purchase.

“If the situation or offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she remarked. “We have a lot of unscrupulous folks, and we see a lot of people targeting seniors and people who are in poverty, particularly in renting. A lot of people get taken advantage of — thinking they’re making a good decision for their future, and they are being taken advantage (of).”

Lakeshore is funded by Legal Services Corp., United Way of Southeastern Michigan, the Access to Justice Fund, the Oakland County Bar Foundation, the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Area Agency on Aging, and the Office of Violence Against Women. What makes its mission possible are the lawyers who work with Lakeshore Legal Aid on a pro bono basis, such as Kimberly Paulson, the pro bono counsel with the Bodman PLC legal firm.

“I’m the pro bono counsel here at Bodman, so I look at where pro bono work comes from,” Paulson explained. “I knew some people who worked at Lakeshore, and we took some cases for them. We are a big presence in the pro bono community in Wayne County, so when Lakeshore moved in Wayne County, it was a very natural partnership.”

Paulson said providing legal resources for those who can’t afford them otherwise is a crucial component in a healthy community. She also said that helping those at the bottom ultimately helps everyone.

“There is a large population out there who most definitely cannot afford legal services,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they have less legal issues, it just means they have fewer resources to use. The community as a whole benefits from having these services. More people can get driver’s licenses, more people can get jobs, more people can get housing. In the end, this means the taxpayers have to pay less money to support people in need if you allow them to not be hindered by the legal process.”

Those interested in Lakeshore’s services can call its counsel and advocacy law line at (888) 783-8190 to speak to a licensed Michigan attorney who can answer questions or refer them to the proper attorneys. Its Cass Corridor office is open between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, except for Thursday afternoons after 2 p.m.

Boyd said assistance with one court case or legal matter can change the course of someone’s life. She hopes people realize that they have options when they find themselves in a tricky legal position.

“Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid of the court system. We can help give you a voice,” she advised. “We known it’s very difficult when you’re struggling, but there’s help out there.”