Grundy, VA (February 6, 2018) – Area residents will have a new tool available to them beginning Saturday to get help when it comes to finding answers to legal questions. The Appalachian School of Law will open the doors to the Buchanan County Legal Clinic, a once a month free clinic to be operated on the second Saturday of each month.
Attorneys licensed to practice law in Virginia will be on hand at the Booth Center second floor, located on the ASL campus, beginning Saturday, February 10 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to assist residents with their legal questions. ASL students will also be volunteering their time to assist in case intake and follow-up under the guidance of the attorneys clinic participants see. No appointment is necessary.
Questions surrounding commonplace legal questions will be the focus of clinic. The clinic will not offer advice related to criminal matters. It will not offer ongoing legal representation, but will be focused on answers to legal questions that can be given the day of the clinic and placing individuals with attorneys who can further answer those questions.
ASL Professor Ken Russell noted the idea to open the clinic came about in 2017 when students, including now third year law student Chris Porsenna, approached ASL administrators about the possibility of opening a legal clinic at the school.
“I have been volunteering at the Johnson City Legal Clinic since 2015 and that is where I became part of a team of ASL alumni who were pushing for ASL to develop a similar clinic for our local community,” Porsenna recalled. “I made a formal proposal to Dean McGlothlin in 2017 and she shared the proposal with faculty. Since then, various meetings have taken place and we are ready to start. The student body is excited and grateful to have this opportunity to work with the community here in Buchanan County.”
Russell, along with Judge Larry Elder and Grundy Attorney Thomas R. Scott, who also teach at the school, began working with students shortly after the formal proposal was made to further develop the idea — all with a focus on increasing access to justice.
“In the last nine months, we’ve held numerous meetings with students to determine how they would like to be involved and we’ve visited with the founder of a number of legal clinics who is now heavily involved in the State of Tennessee’s access to justice movement,” Russell said.
The project has also involved research related to how law schools and other organizations have established and managed legal clinics.
“We also met with the Buchanan County Bar Association regarding their participation in the clinic and we’ve met with Legal Aid to discuss how they might participate as well,” Russell said of how the clinic idea has evolved.
“This is really a student-driven activity and students will be involved in every step of the process,” he said, noting the clinic will also provide students with practical hands-on education to help them further develop good law practice skills.
Russell characterized the clinic as a “triage-type clinic,” noting the clinic will work with those seeking its services to determine if they really need to involve an attorney. He added that 75 percent of the time when people have a legal problem there is a “self-help” method of resolving the problem. That self-help will be a major focus of the clinic.
Those seeking answers from the clinic’s attorneys will first meet students, who will be trained to gather information about the individual and their legal need. That information will be reviewed by an attorney to determine which attorney working that day should help address the problem. ASL students will shadow those attorneys as they meet with those who have sought answers at the clinic as long as the person seeking advice consents. All information will be kept confidential and any documents presented for review will not be kept at the clinic. Scans of the documents will be made and maintained on an encrypted secure server.
“If the appropriate attorney has volunteered his or her time that day, many times, the question can be answered on the spot,” Russell said. “However, if we don’t have someone there to answer the type of question they have, we will generally make the referral to an attorney off-site for a free consultation.
“We are working on developing a bank of attorneys to be used for referral services in Grundy,” Russell added, noting ASL grads in neighboring counties may also become a part of the project.
Anyone visiting the clinic with a legal question will receive a follow-up letter from the clinic to detail the actions recommended or taken at the clinic.
The clinic will operate on the second Saturday of each month. Future clinic dates are March 10, April 14, May 12, June 9, July 14 and Aug. 11.