Free family law clinics scheduled across the state

More than 20 free family law clinics are scheduled around the state, and many more are expected to be held this year to help poor people resolve civil legal issues.

The Access to Justice Commission and the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project are working to schedule free civil legal assistance clinics for residents of all 82 counties, as they did in 2018.

Chancellor Jacqueline Mask of Tupelo, co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission, signed orders in a variety of family law cases on March 4 in Union County Chancery Court in New Albany during the First Chancery District first free clinic this year.  Eight more free legal clinics are scheduled at a rate of one a month throughout that district that includes Alcorn, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tishomingo and Union counties.

“We are trying to  assure that our legal system is reaching out and meeting the needs of people that are at or below the poverty line,” Judge Mask said. “Clearly the need is there by the numbers that have been assisted.”

Twenty-eight people received assistance from about a dozen lawyers at the March 4 family law clinic in New Albany. Participants needed help with irreconcilable differences divorces, contested divorces, child custody and visitation issues, child support modification and enforcement and estate issues.

The free family law clinics across the state are designed to give people enough basic legal advice and directions so that they can handle simple legal matters on their own in Chancery Court. Attorneys at the legal clinics will help clients prepare documents, give limited legal advice and help them get ready to go to court on their own.

Judge Mask said that she has seen an increase in self-represented litigants in the courts. The clinics help walk them through the process. 

“Historically when pro se individuals would file their own paperwork, it has not been sufficient. It’s often difficult to determine what issues they are pursuing in court based on the pleadings.” With free legal help, “it is a good thing for them to start their case on the right track having the proper pleadings. It moves them along. It cuts the time that they have to be in court significantly....They understand the process better. It makes the case move faster, it gives them  relief quicker, and it gives the court the information that it needs to make a decision,” she said.

Family law clinics usually handle cases such as uncontested divorce,  legal name change, emancipation, guardianship and expungement. The kinds of matters which may be addressed vary at the different clinics. Clinic topics and limitations are posted on the clinic schedule on the Mississippi Judiciary website at https://courts.ms.gov/Legal/CivilLegal.php, or on the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project website at http://www.mvlp.net/pro-se-legal-clinic-schedule/.

Attala/Carroll counties will be held June 14, location and time TBA. Topics include uncontested irreconcilable differences divorce, uncontested emancipation, uncontested guardianship and name change.

For more information about the subject matter of a particular clinic, and to determine eligibility for free legal assistance, call or e-mail the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission at 601-960-9581 or nmclaughlin@msbar.org, or the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project at 601-882-5001 or mvlp@mvlp.org.