Free legal clinics for Syracuse school district families will reopen for the year this month under revamped management.
The clinics are under the umbrella of the Onondaga County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Project.
The clinics, staffed by volunteer lawyers, are a project of Say Yes to Education, a national, nonprofit organization working with local partners to improve the low-achieving, high-poverty Syracuse schools. Say Yes partners include the Syracuse school district and Syracuse University.
A pillar of the Say Yes approach is to remove barriers to student success that are beyond the classroom. Parents turn to the Say Yes clinics for advice about evictions, poor housing conditions, child custody, employment rights and debt. The clinics handle civil, not criminal, issues.
“Clearly, being evicted from your home disrupts your education,” said attorney Sally Curran, the new legal director for the Volunteer Lawyer Project and the head of the Say Yes legal task force.
Last school year, the Say Yes clinics served 74 people, Curran said. Say Yes has not yet done an in-depth analysis of the impact of the clinics on student achievement, said Pat Driscoll, operations direction for Say Yes in Syracuse.
The Say Yes legal task force, which includes a number of local law firms and organizations that provide free legal services, developed the structure for the school-based clinics. The school clinics were modeled after free “Talk to a Lawyer” clinics sponsored by the Volunteer Lawyer Project, which is part of the task force.
The Say Yes clinics provide advice and referrals to families, which means the volunteer lawyers who staff them connect families to organizations that provide the legal help they need, said Jim Williams, a member of the bar association board and an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, which is part of the task force.
If there is no place that provides the services, the goal is to find them a lawyer who will take on the work for free, Williams said.
The new legal director position is paid for by a roughly $40,000 state grant obtained by the association and about $40,000 from Say Yes to Education, Williams said.
Last year, seven free Say Yes clinics provided services for district families, overseen by a staff person from Syracuse University’s law clinic, Driscoll said. The SU staff person left the job, he said.
This year, two Say Yes Clinics will be based at schools. Three more will be part of “Talk to a Lawyer” clinics.
Taking on the Say Yes clinics was a natural fit for the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which has the mission of providing low income people with access to legal services, Williams said. The association obtained the roughly $40,000 grant from the state Office of Court Administration.
The number of people who use the Talk to a Lawyer clinics is on the rise and is likely to hit nearly 700 this year, Curran said.
Say Yes clinics in schools
After school Tuesdays, McKinley-Brighton Elementary School, 141 W. Newell Street, starting Oct. 23
After school Thursdays at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 416 E. Raynor Ave., starting Oct. 25
Joint Say Yes/Talk to a Lawyer clinics
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays, Brown Memorial United Methodist Church, 228 Davis St.
6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Westcott Community Center, 826 Euclid Ave.
Overview of services offered through Say Yes and the Volunteer Lawyer Project, 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 20, Onondaga Community College
Know-your-rights workshop about bankruptcy and consumer fraud, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at Henninger High School, 600 Robinson St.
Know-your-rights workshop about housing and tenants rights, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, Corcoran High School, 919 Glenwood Ave.