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Giving Peace of Mind: BMD co-hosts free legal clinic with Legal Aid

Barbara Clemons walked into Mason Community Learning Center fighting back tears.

Minutes later, she felt relief about her financial situation for the first time in years.

“I feel so much better,” Clemons said after consulting with Brennan, Manna and Diamond LLC partner Duriya Dhinojwala about an old $11,000 credit card bill that was left by her late husband.

Clemons and her daughter, Teresa Clemons, attended the second pro bono legal advice clinic in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood. The March 23 event was co-hosted by BMD and Community Legal Aid for low-income Summit County residents.

Dhinojwala, whose practice focuses on immigration, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, reassured the mother and daughter that the debt was uncollectable because Barbara was on social security.

“She was very helpful and very courteous,” Teresa Clemons said of Dhinojwala’s advice.

Forty-five people were able to obtain free legal advice from volunteer attorneys on civil issues involving bankruptcy, custody and visitation, employment, divorce, foreclosures and evictions, guardianship, housing conditions, name changes, powers of attorney, protection orders, special education, taxes, and will and estate planning.

Attorney Rachel Nader, manager of Legal Aid’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, said the Middlebury neighborhood was chosen for the Neighborhood Law Clinic due to its central location and average household annual income in the low $20,000s.

Nader said such events often foreshadow the types of problems Legal Aid clients are likely to seek help for in the coming months.

“We use this as a predictor of what we’re going to see coming through,” she said at the clinic. “It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of foreclosure and consumer issues. We’re seeing a lot of foreclosures today, so I’m wondering if there’s a second wave of those coming, if there could be another foreclosure crisis coming up.”

Community Legal Aid Executive Director Steven McGarrity called such clinics offer the ideal opportunity to help a lot of people in a short amount of time.

“Sometimes, it’s just giving people peace of mind,” McGarrity said. “For a lot of people, they just want the opportunity to tell their story and learn what they need to do to move forward. We’re incredibly grateful to BMD for doing this for our clients. Our hope is to expand these clinics and attract other law firms to sponsor them.”

Kevin Saunders joined BMD’s Cleveland office last year as an associate attorney. Saunders, who specializes in corporate law, real estate and acquisitions, said he was happy to give up a Saturday for a great cause.

Right at the start of the clinic, Saunders was able to help a client who was facing eviction in two days.

“I think we found a good defense for her,” he said. “She came in here pretty nervous, and she left with some hope. I talked about next steps with her. I’m also a landlord, so I understand the eviction process. I have been on the other side of that, and no matter how necessary, it doesn’t feel good.”

Barbara Hanselman, a retired Copley Township woman, decided to volunteer her time escorting clients from intake to the next steps in the clinic process because she thought it sounded like a good program.

“I have two sisters who are attorneys. I’m a big admirer of attorneys and the job they do,” Hanselman said. “They’re doing a wonderful job here. I’m just interested in the law. I think one of the great disparities in our country is fair access to the legal system.”

Lorraine Signore, director of marketing at BMD, said the Akron firm collaborated with Legal Aid for the opportunity to do more advocacy law.

“We have an attorney who drove up from our Columbus office and another from Cleveland,” she added. “They are compassionate and caring. At Brennan, Manna and Diamond, we advocate giving back, so when the call went out, they responded. Giving back is part of our culture. It’s the professional responsibility to give back to the community.”

Dhinojwala, who is also a member of Legal Aid’s Board of Trustees, said she much prefers helping people like Barbara Clemons than taking them to court.

“You really feel like you’re accomplishing something,” she said.

Akron Legal News, April 19, 2019