Who is a Pro Bono or Legal Services client?
Legal services and pro bono programs provide free legal assistance in civil cases to those who could not otherwise afford it. Programs are limited in who they can represent, and client eligibility is typically based on income, age, financial resources, merits of the case and availability of resources. Here are stories from typical clients.
Born with cerebral palsy, Wilmer has always relied on his family for assistance. He shared a home with his parents for many years, and he and his family have lived in the same neighborhood in Catahoula, Louisiana for his entire life. When Wilmer's sister, a nurse, moved into a house near their parents' house, he moved in with her. They lived together for over thirty years. When she passed away, her will stated that he would share ownership of the home with their nephew, whom they had helped to raise-Wilmer was to have use of the home for the remainder of his life, and then their nephew was to gain full ownership. Wilmer's nephew was dissatisfied with this arrangement. He filed a suit challenging Wilmer's right to the use of the home which, if successful, would have forced Wilmer to find another place to live. On Wilber's very limited income, he could not afford an attorney and was referred to Acadiana Legal Services. With Francesca Hamilton-Acker's help, Wilmer was able to win the case and remain in the house which is the only home he has known for thirty-five years. "I'm very appreciative of what legal services did for me" says Wilmer. "I'm able to stay in my house and have my family all around me."
Vicki was sharing a home with her mother, her sister, and countless animals. She had little contact with the outside world and instead spent much of her time in the house, which was in a state of filth and disrepair, due in part to the presence of the animals and in part to general neglect. Vicki is a person with a developmental disability-adult protective services wanted to take her out of the home and limit contact with her family. Vicki was uncomfortable with all the animals and the filth in the house, but wanted to maintain contact with her family. Miranda Tait with The Advocacy Center negotiated a situation for Vicki where she could live in a group home, see her family, have friends and a community, and a have job. Now, Vicki enjoys regular social interaction with her fellow residents, and is also able to see her mother and sister every week. "Now that she's in the community and working and socializing with people, she's giving back, and she's grown quite a bit," says Miranda.
Valerie, East New Orleans
Valerie was a victim of domestic violence. She had already left her abusive husband once and then taken him back, only to have the cycle of violence start up again. But when he began abusing their older son, she had had enough. "Something clicks as a mother," says Valerie. "It's like you have to protect your child, and you will do it at all costs." After getting a restraining order against her husband, Valerie took her children and moved into her mother's house and went to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services for help filing for divorce. There she met with attorney Bernadette D'Souza, who told Valerie about a Louisiana law according to which she could be guaranteed sole custody of her children. The previous judgment against her husband for abuse put Valerie in a position where sole custody would be awarded to her. "When she said that 'Oh, do you mean that I can get sole custody of my children?' that gave her the feeling that he's not going to be in their lives any longer," says Bernadette. Finally free from abuse, Valerie and her children are putting their lives back together. "I'm in a place of finally caring about myself and knowing that I have value, and knowing that I have something to offer the world," says Valerie.