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Woodlawn Legal Clinic Provides Helping Hand to Residents

By Wendell Hutson | April 10, 2013 7:50am
 The Woodlawn Legal Clinic has been providing free legal services to residents since it opened in 2010.
The Woodlawn Legal Clinic has been providing free legal services to residents since it opened in 2010.
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Black Metropolis

WOODLAWN — The Woodlawn Legal Clinic was started in 2010 with the intent of assisting local parents with legal problems.

It has since grown into a citywide resource that's available to all residents, said Anne Helms, pro bono counsel in the Chicago office of DLA Piper, a downtown law firm funding the clinic.

The clinic is located at the AKArama Community Center, 6220 S. Ingleside Ave., and is open from 4-7 p.m. the second Wednesday each month. Walk-ins are accepted but appointments are recommended.

To make an appointment, call 312-341-1070 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Services are based on income although "we rarely turn anyone away for income," Helms said.

Nicole Miller, a fellow at DLA Piper, said the Woodlawn Legal Clinic was born from a partnership between her firm, the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community and the community center.

Miller said the firm plans to open more clinics in the near future.

Services provided at the clinic include legal advice, referrals, help filling out paperwork for court, and sometimes legal representation in court. The clinic does not handle criminal cases but does assist with civil matters such as evictions, child support, custody and divorce.

"Most of the times when we do represent a client in court, it is for a civil matter like evictions, which we see a lot of," said Dennericka Brooks, a senior attorney for the legal assistance foundation.

The clinic hopes to offer expungement workshops soon. But for now Brooks said it analyzes a client's arrest sheet to determine where to refer them for further assistance.

"Expungements are a big problem for a lot of people. [A criminal record] prevents them from getting a job, housing and in some cases credit," Brooks said. "It's hard for parents to help their children if they are facing difficulties, which is one reason why we started the clinic."

The clinic was born out of another project DLA Piper is involved with in Woodlawn.

In 2009, Helms said the firm partnered with the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community, a non-profit organization whose goal is to bring schools and support services together to improve the lives of children. The organization is based at Austin Sexton Elementary School.

DLA Piper arranges several after-school reading groups for children and parents throughout the year at the school. During the sessions, attorneys from the firm or volunteers from other organizations read a children's story to the crowd. Afterward, children are given a free book to read at home and refreshments.

The next scheduled reading session is May 15 at the University of Chicago Charter School in Woodlawn. DLA Piper also helped start a debate team at the school.

The Woodlawn Children's Promise Community's 32-member board is chaired by the Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God, said Joyce Nimosks, a board member and 42-year Woodlawn resident.

Helms described the group as a "Promise Neighborhood" modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, an organization that provides comprehensive support services to children and families within a certain area.

DLA Piper has similar project modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone. Piper's Advancing Education's Promise, aims to improve the quality of education for children from birth to college in many communities it serves, Helms said.