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BMD Partnering with Community Legal Aid to Help Low Income Akron Residents

Low-Income Akron residents can get free legal help Saturday through Legal Aid, law firm joint venture

Lawyers are like doctors. On any given day, the average person doesn’t think about them.

“You don’t think about us until you need us,” is how Steve McGarrity, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid puts it.

But legal help – like medicine – is expensive, and it doesn’t come with insurance coverage.

“The average low-income family simply can’t afford to have representation,” McGarrity explained. “We’re talking about a family of four who makes around $31,500 a year. There’s no extra money when a legal problem hits, so they get left behind.”

Last year, 86 percent of the civil legal problems low-income Americans faced received “inadequate or no legal help,” according to the 2017 Legal Services Foundation’s The Justice Gap report.

But for Summit County residents, there is help. Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm, is teaming up with Brennan, Manna & Diamond, LLC (“BMD”), to take legal help into the community.  The demand for Legal Aid services continues to grow and the need for quality legal counsel is great.  BMD understands and appreciates the challenges faced by Legal Aid and proudly stands ready to help meet the needs of those in the community. 

As a full-service law firm based in Akron, Ohio, BMD is committed to the importance of professional responsibility of giving back. The partnership between BMD and Community Legal Aid is a new approach which should increase the outreach and accessibility of those seeking legal counsel.

“Our goal was essentially to adopt a neighborhood. We wanted to help a community adjacent to downtown, near our downtown Akron offices, so our attorneys could feel a close connection to the difference they were making by listening, solving and empowering people’s lives,” explained Michael Steel, a partner at Brennan, Manna & Diamond, who co-chairs BMD’s Pro-Bono Committee. BMD’s Pro-Bono Committee lawyers, including co-chair, Duriya Dhinojwala, and Attorney Robert Hager, helped to spearhead the partnership with Legal Aid. 

The result: a free Neighborhood Law Clinic in the Middlebury neighborhood.

“Our volunteer attorneys are going to be on-site for several hours on a Saturday to answer legal questions and give advice to residents,” shared Rachel Nader, managing attorney for Legal Aid’s Volunteer Legal Services Program. “These folks are giving up a big part of their weekend to donate their time and talents for the purpose of helping their neighbors in need. It’s really very humbling to be a part of it.”

This approach, offering services directly in the community, is something new for Legal Aid. McGarrity calls it “community lawyering.”

“We’ve been moving more in the direction of taking our services to the people, instead of waiting for them to come to us,” he said. “It can be intimidating to go to an attorney’s office for anyone, and with our clients, specifically, they may not have reliable transportation or flexible work schedules – there are all these extra barriers that we can remove by simply going to them.”

The legal team has partnered with the City of Akron and Akron Public Schools to offer the clinic at Middlebury’s local school, Mason Community Learning Center.

“This is our first time partnering on a legal clinic like this, and we’re really excited to be involved,” said Steve Bushko, who manages the City’s scheduling of the learning centers. “Increasing access to services for our neighborhoods is a high priority for the City, and this is a great way to leverage our partnership with APS in order to reach the families who need help the most.”

Debra Foulk, executive director of the Business Affairs Office for Akron Public Schools, said APS families can face multiple challenges that can impact students’ learning.

“If a child lives with a parent who can’t get a job because of a past criminal conviction, that can impact their access to a stable home, to food, to clothing,” Foulk explained. “By resolving that issue, these volunteer attorneys are ultimately helping our kids. We’re thrilled to be hosting this clinic at Mason.”

Although the event will be held at Mason, any low-income Summit County resident is welcome to attend.

“We wanted a central location, but we don’t want to limit it just to families at that school or its neighborhood because our BMD law firm has a deep commitment to the greater Akron area and strong ties to the community,” said Duriya Dhinojwala, a partner at Brennan, Manna & Diamond and a member of Legal Aid’s Board of Trustees, who also helped to plan the clinic. “We’re happy to sit down with anyone who needs to talk to an attorney. Anyone should feel welcome to attend.”

Those attending will have a chance to sit down with an attorney and talk about any civil legal issue they may be facing, including:

  •  Bankruptcy
  • Custody and visitation
  • Employment issues
  • Expungement and criminal record sealing
  • Divorce
  • Foreclosures and evictions
  • Guardianship
  • Housing conditions
  • Immigration
  • Name changes
  • Powers of attorney
  • Protection orders
  • Special education
  • Taxes
  • Wills and estate planning

Attorneys will not be able to help with criminal or traffic charges.

Also attending is Representative Tavia Galonski. Rep. Galonski focuses on improving the quality of life for residents of the 35th House district.   

Nader encourages anyone interested in attending to call ahead to register.

“We are signing people up clear through the week of the event,” she said. “We will take walk-ins, but those who pre-register will have a much smoother process the day of the event.”

Those interested can register by calling Legal Aid’s HelpLine at (800) 998-9454 and asking to register for the Neighborhood Law Clinic in Middlebury.

McGarrity is excited to see how the event unfolds.

“This is a pilot project for us,” he said. “We just keep trying new things to see what the best way to reach people is. Our hope is that collaborating with BMD is just another way for us to better meet the needs of the community and make a positive impact in people’s lives.”

Anyone seeking more information about the event can find more information online at www.communitylegalaid.org/events or by calling Legal Aid’s HelpLine.

About Community Legal Aid 

Community Legal Aid is a 501(c)3 non-profit law firms serving the legal needs of low-income individuals in central and northeast Ohio. Dedicated to improving the lives of those in need, Community Legal Aid provides free legal information and representation, as well as free education to those who work with the poor and elderly. The non-profit firm serves clients in Columbiana, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Trumbull and Wayne counties.

About Brennan, Manna & Diamond 

Listen, solve, empower is not just a tagline, it is the cornerstone of BMD’s continued success. 

BMD is a full service law firm with many different practice areas.  One of the most important—yet most rare quality of any attorney is the ability to “listen” to clients. After gaining a solid understanding of their businesses, industries, experiences and projects do we effectively provide innovative and practical "solutions" to our clients. That attention and commitment to client service “empowers” our clients to realize their goals. That is the BMD difference - it is what sets us apart from other law firms.  BMD has offices in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Jacksonville and Bonita Springs.  BMD’s attorneys collaborate seamlessly across practice groups and geographies to provide clients with exceptional legal service, sophisticated legal advice and creative and practical solutions that reflect a deep understanding of the legal landscape, market trends and our clients’ businesses and objectives.