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New legal clinic helps low-income people represent themselves

Jan 17, 2018

Credit North Charleston / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Low-income people who have a valid legal claim but can't afford a lawyer can now get free advice on how to represent themselves.

A new legal clinic provides assistance specifically for low-income people who want to represent themselves in civil lawsuits in federal court.

Federal courts have jurisdiction over civil rights disputes, employment matters and certain contract issues.

The clinic will be staffed by students from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School. The students will provide free but limited legal research under the guidance of attorney. 

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts says she proposed the clinic after seeing hundreds of claims filed by people without legal representation.  

"We had, from January 2015 through December 2016, over 400 cases filed each year by people who were not represented by a lawyer. This represented 10% of all of our new civil cases filed -- that's the highest percentage in this district, the Sixth Circuit," Roberts said.

Roberts said that many of the complaints filed were incomprehensible and unclear in their cause of action. She says many cases actually did have a cause of action, but claimants simply didn't know how to present or articulate their case.

"It's not even easy sometimes for lawyers to know exactly what to do or how to do it. Just imagine what it's like for someone who's not trained in the law," Roberts said.

To qualify for the clinic, Anne Yantus, director of clinical programs at Detroit Mercy, said a claimant must be a non-prisoner with an income that doesn't exceed twice the federal poverty level.