Law school students are taking active steps in the community to help local citizens who cannot afford legal fees.
The Florida A&M College of Law has been awarded a civil clinic grant to help the homeless get legal representation.
“I think the grant is a beautiful thing,” said clinical program instructor Ka’Juel Washington. “It ensures that the services are going to continue, at least for a time. Legal services are expensive and the homeless community is the least equipped to pay for these services. Subsequently, their legal issues go unmet.”
According to Washington, FAMU is the only Historically Black College and University to provide legal assistance in the Orange County area.
The program offers students hands-on experience dealing with legal affairs. All students in their prospective clinic provide services to low-income clients, according to Ann-Marie Cavazos, the director of the legal clinic and pro-bono programs.
“The Homelessness and Legal Advocacy Clinic is designed to provide legal assistance to the surrounding homeless community,” said Washington. “It’s very up close and personal because we bring the service to the shelter where the people are rather than remain in our own comfort zone of the law school.”
According to Washington, the clinic conducts legal intakes at two different homeless shelters three nights a week.
“The students and I go into these shelters for two hours each day and conduct legal intakes on anyone who comes in with an issue,” said Washington.
Steven Kahana, 29, a third-year law student from Clearwater, Fla; is gaining hands-on experience through the program.
“We actually (visit) the homeless shelters,” said Kahana.
Students are required to conduct the intake of the individual in order to determine what their legal needs are.
“If we are able to service the person, the student is responsible for conducting all the research and drafting all of the legal pleadings under my supervision,” said Washington.
“Lastly, if the student is a Certified Legal Intern, they would actually represent the person in court and advocate on their behalf.
According to Cavazos, services offered include providing brief service, mediation, pre-trial, trial and limited appellate practice.
“We don’t do criminal work because that’s a conflict with the public defender’s office,” said Kahana.
Kahana said students are not allowed to handle cases outside Orange and Osceola counties.
“If it’s outside the ninth circuit, we will not handle the cases,” said Kahana. “We will hand them to legal aid in those counties if there is any.”
Law school students’ involvement in the program has impacted the school and reinforced its mission to “provide public service” and learning opportunities to its students.
LeoRoy Pernell, the dean of FAMU’s College of Law, said the school will continue to accept grants similar to the Law School Civil Clinic.
“I think a grant that supports our students in preparing them to tackle issues in the community such as homelessness and housing needs, is a part of the mission of this law school and helps us prepare students that will make a difference in changing the community around them,” said Pernell.
Strong networking contacts and relationships are hopeful aspirations from participating in the program.
“My hope is that the relationship that has been forged will continue to develop and last for a very long time,” said Washington. “It’s important that the school have a presence in the community and this is one avenue to accomplish that objective.”