Located in Ladera Ranch at the Laura’s House Counseling and Resource Center, the Legal Clinic pairs volunteer attorneys with agency clients who are in need of legal assistance stemming from their family law and domestic violence cases
LADERA RANCH, Calif., January 22, 2013 – In an effort to promote access to legal counsel and assistance for its clients, Laura’s House, a non-profit organization whose mission is to change the social beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate domestic violence while creating a safe place in which to empower individuals and families affected by abuse, partners with the Orange County Bar Association in hosting a monthly Legal Clinic at its Counseling and Resource Center in Ladera Ranch.
Legal clinic attorneys, who volunteer their time on a pro-bono basis, meet with clients by appointment and provide assistance in navigating the complex family law legal system. In some cases, Laura’s House clients are still residing in an abusive home and are in need of a legal road map to find their way out. Others may have recently obtained a restraining order and need help addressing issues of custody and support. In all cases, these legal issues are complicated by domestic violence.
While the type of legal assistance needed does vary, the most common issues pertain to dissolution, paternity, custody and visitation, support or restraining order protection. Volunteer attorneys Courtney Winzeler Smith and Robert Clemons of Prenovost, Normandin, Bergh & Dawe come across unique and challenging situations every month. “We are consistently amazed at what these self represented victims are able to accomplish on their own,” says Winzeler Smith. “However, the benefits of meeting with an attorney to help fill in the gaps, strategize or to simply receive reassurance are critical to their legal process and confidence.”
Most importantly, the Legal Clinics fulfill a need for access to family law expertise that supplements the legal services offered by the Laura’s House Legal Department. The department is staffed by two full-time legal advocates who provide a broad offering of services and assistance to victims of domestic violence. However, these services are limited in scope to domestic violence restraining orders only and legal advocates do not provide legal advice, making the Legal Clinic a critical component to the agency’s legal services platform. “The Laura’s House Legal Clinic program is a vital asset not only for our clients, but also to our Legal Department,” said Lia Chacon, a legal advocate with Laura’s House. “With the aid of the Legal Clinic, we are able to more completely serve the legal needs of our client base.”
The majority of volunteer attorneys from the Orange County Bar Association have some level of family law experience. “On any given night, attorneys will often meet with up to four clients on a variety of complex legal issues from modifying custody to starting a divorce,” said Attorney Rebecca Rainwater of Rainwater Family Law. “By volunteering for just a few hours per month, legal clinic volunteers quickly make a meaningful impact in the lives of several victims and their children, which is extremely rewarding.”
From the client’s perspective, the Laura’s House Legal Clinic strives to emulate the experience of visiting a law office. Clients of Laura’s House are seen by appointment only and meet in a professional office setting. Meetings are held one on one with clients in private offices. A volunteer attorney’s commitment is limited to these 30-minute appointments only and does not extend beyond the clinic. This formula has been a huge success for clients of Laura’s House. “Due to barriers of cost and accessibility, the opportunity to consult with an attorney is not a viable option for many of our clients,” said Adam Dodge, a legal advocate for Laura’s House. “We are extremely grateful to the Orange County Bar Association and its attorney members for partnering with Laura’s House in providing much needed legal counsel and assistance to our clients.”
In addition to the Legal Clinic, the Laura’s House Legal Department also conducts intake interviews and assists with safety planning; education on victim’s rights; registration for the State of California’s Safe at Home program; the preparation and filing of domestic violence restraining orders; collection of evidence, including the photographing of injuries; court transportation; court accompaniment; court direction; and referrals to community resources, emergency shelters and pro bono attorneys.
More information on the Laura’s House Legal Department is available at www.laurashouse.org/legal-services.html or by calling the Counseling and Resource Center at 949.361.3775.
About Laura’s House
Over the past eighteen years, Laura’s House has provided residential shelter and support services to nearly 3,500 families, and counseling, life skills education and legal assistance to over 40,000 individuals. The mission of Laura’s House is to change the social beliefs, attitudes and the behaviors that perpetuate domestic violence while creating a safe space in which to empower individuals and families affected by abuse.
# # #