Our nation’s legal system, despite its flaws and failures, remains the best in the world, but our courts are conducted in a language with which ordinary people are not familiar.
Humorist Will Rogers noted this almost 100 years ago, saying, “The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer.”
There comes a point in every life when an understanding of this foreign language means the difference between protecting your rights and being denied them.
This is particularly true for low-income people, who simply cannot afford the legal advice of an attorney. Yet there are many instances when, with a little guidance, hiring an attorney is not necessary. This is particularly true in simple civil cases, many of them uncontested. These are things like guardianship, adult name changes, uncontested divorces, simple wills, power of attorney, etc.
Without that guidance, those with no experience in how our court system operates, may find their efforts bogged down in a sea of improperly filed court papers or missing information, turning what would otherwise be a simple process into a confusing nightmare.
Friday, for the fourth time in five years, low-income residents of the 14th Chancery Court District — Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties — can get help with common civil legal issues at a free clinic. From noon until 4 p.m. a free in-person legal clinic will be held at the Oktibbeha County Chancery Courthouse, 101 East Main Street in Starkville.
Participants must be of low income. To find out if you qualify, download the income schedule at 14thchanceryms.com, fill it out and bring it with you when you come.
Volunteer lawyers will be on hand to provide advice on cases, help with drafting documents and give advice on how to prepare your case in court.
Chancery Judge Paula Drungole-Ellis is sponsoring the clinic.
“There are so many people who need legal help, but do not have the funds to hire an attorney,” Drungole-Ellis said. “So this is the opportunity to get help, which makes the process easier for the filer and the court system.”
The clinics began in 2018 as part of national Access to Justice month, which is set aside to call attention to the needs of poor Americans as they try to navigate the justice system.
Retired chancery judge Jim Davidson helped organize that initial clinic.
“There is definitely a need,” Davidson said then. “People are afraid of the court system. A lot of times, they’ll come to the chancery clerk’s office for help. Our clerks do all they can for them, showing them what forms to fill out or the procedures. But the clerks are limited. They can’t go beyond that because they would be practicing law without a license. So this clinic gives people an opportunity to get the help they need and we really hope people will take advantage of it.”
For those who qualify, this is a rare opportunity to get the legal help they need.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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