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SHERIDAN — A dozen Sheridan-based attorneys will offer legal services to the public for free next Thursday in celebration of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, which runs Oct. 20-26. The free legal advice clinic, to be hosted at Sheridan College, is one of nine around the state.
The celebration of pro bono legal services locally is sponsored by the Sheridan County Bar Association. President Nicholas Haderlie said Sheridan’s attorneys are all too aware that not everyone has access to legal representation when they need it.
“Many people are familiar with the Miranda rights you hear on TV that say you have a right to an attorney,” Haderlie said. “That right is only given in criminal cases. There is a right in limited types of civil cases, but those are in the minority.”
Haderlie said many times, lawyers can provide valuable assistance for cases involving child custody, bankruptcy, employment problems, insurance issues and disputes between landlords and tenants, among other civil problems. However, depending on the type of law being practiced, lawyer fees can range between $150 to $300 per hour in Sheridan County, and thus, the service of a lawyer becomes cost prohibitive for some.
“As a result, many people with civil legal needs don’t get one,” Haderlie said, adding that the situation is less than ideal. “It’s people with these types of problems that most need the help of a lawyer. These issues can be life-changing events.”
Executive Director of the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid Angie Dorsch said the problem isn’t limited to Sheridan County, or even Wyoming.
“There are huge unmet legal needs nationwide,” she said. “More and more individuals are not able to get services.”
Dorsch said in addition to financial considerations, some areas in the state are underserved in terms of availability of legal representatives.
“We’re seeing more and more self representation,” she continued. “We’re seeing that in more than half of civil cases, people are representing themselves.”
Haderlie said next week’s free legal clinic is an initiative to revive community appreciation of Sheridan’s attorneys and renew the spirit of pro boon service.
“The attitude in our profession is very much promoting pro bono work,” he said. “The Rules of Professional Conduct specifically encourage it, and there’s a heavy emphasis on it — if we could all find the time,”
“We want to bring this conversation to our community,” Haderlie continued. “Hopefully, this will lead to access to more local lawyers.”
Haderlie said until recently, Wyoming was one of three states that did not have a state-funded legal services program. The state legislature passed a bill to change that in 2011, which was the initiation of the WCLA, which provides legal access to people who meet low-income criteria. However, he said, the program is still developing.
The advice clinic scheduled in Sheridan does not establish income requirements, and is open to the general public.
Sheridan’s Free Legal Advice Clinic will be Thursday, Oct. 24 from 6-9 p.m. in Founder’s Hall at Sheridan College.
“We’re asking folks to call the Wyoming Center for Legal Aide to schedule and appoint so we can match the issue with a lawyer that has knowledge in that field,” Haderlie said. The phone number for the WCLA is (307) 777-8383.
“We can also take walk-ins on a limited basis, but we’d really prefer it if people can call in,” he said.
Haderlie added that the clinic is designed to point clients in the right direction of where to go to settle their legal inquiries.
“Often times, all people need is some direction,” he said, indicating that attorneys at the clinic will focus on matching people with resources or agencies that can help them with their problems, but will not continue to represent them in legal cases after the free clinic ends.
Haderlie said he anticipates Sheridan’s legal professionals will be able to help with a broad spectrum of legal questions, included paperwork, wills or advance directives, property, public benefits, and consumer issues, among others.
He said now is the time to prevent a legal problem from snowballing.
“I think people likely need legal advice on the front end of any particular issue. If they would have sought it, they would have not needed as much on the back end,” he said, adding that simple problems can become giant ones if individuals proceed through an issue without warranted caution.
Dorsch said in addition to helping out the general public, National Celebrate Pro Bono Week recognizes the contribution lawyers make to society.
“One of our big things is recognizing and thanking attorneys for providing their services,” she said. “We really want to promote our pro boon volunteers and mobilize the community to support pro boon attorneys.”
There are 12 attorneys from Sheridan County who will participate in the event by offering free services for the event.