Attorneys to host free legal clinic — Walk-ins welcome at all-day session Friday

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A dozen local attorneys are offering free legal advice Friday in an all-day clinic to anyone who needs it.

Brookhaven attorney Greg Malta said lawyers with the Lincoln County Bar Association will host a walk-in clinic offering free instruction on how to deal with chancery court-related matters. It will be on the second floor of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free clinic is intended for residents facing legal matters without the means to hire their own attorney. It is being conducted at the request of the Mississippi Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission.

“People charged with crimes who can’t afford an attorney are provided one by the government, but in civil matters if they can’t afford an attorney they’re at a terrible disadvantage,” Malta said. “The Supreme Court has asked us to try to provide some guidance to those people, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Malta said the clinic will focus on family law matters like child custody, adoption, guardianship, divorce, power of attorney, wills and estates, land disputes and other matters centered around chancery court, where equity matters are resolved. 

Most chancery court issues are not elective proceedings, like lawsuits, but actions people are compelled to attend. Malta said underprivileged citizens who can’t afford an attorney often end up losing important chancery cases on technicalities as they try to represent themselves.

“They wind up in court without the skills to really do so, and they often lose on procedural matters because they don’t know how to file something,” he said. “There will be two or three pro se (self-represented) divorces on the docket each week where poor people are trying to get their own divorce, and I’d say close to 50 percent of the time those don’t go through because they haven’t done something right.”

Malta said the bar hopes to help people caught in such situations by showing them the right steps to take pre-trial, what papers must be completed and other processes often bound up in legal-speak. The purpose of the clinic is to arm individuals with knowledge, but anyone who qualifies for legal help will be directed to an attorney if possible, he said.

Chancery Judge Ed Patten, Jr. said one of the “harsh realities” of the legal system is that it can be cost prohibitive. He said he often sees underprivileged individuals trying to represent themselves in chancery court — he saw three on his docket Tuesday morning — and all three were dismissed as unprepared.

“The problem for chancery court for people not familiar with the law is that so much of it is rule-driven and procedure-driven. Without the expertise and familiarity with the law, often times a person attempting to represent themselves — without at least some guidance — end up falling short,” he said. “Every time I have court where there are people who are unrepresented, I fully recognize the necessity for help (like the legal clinics will provide).”

The Copiah County Bar Association is also holding a free legal clinic. It will be June 28 at the Copiah County Safe Room in Gallman from 3-7 p.m.