The University Record, October 30, 1995

United Way funds, volunteers help provide legal services

By Jared Blank

"Unfortunately, we have to turn away about 80 percent of the people who need our help. We just don't have the resources to provide legal services for that many people."

Steve Gray wishes this were not the case, but the managing attorney at Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan has seen many cases turned away because their 15 lawyers cannot handle the myriad potential clients.

Legal Services, a private, non-profit agency based in Ann Arbor, receives the bulk of its funding from the federal government, but also receives dollars from United Way designated funds.

To allow for the best use of its resources, Gray says the agency focuses its efforts on providing civil representation for low-income clients. "We provide representation for people facing eviction and for people who are threatened with the loss of disability, welfare or Medicaid benefits. We also work with domestic violence prevention, working on cases where we help to obtain restraining orders," he notes.

Legal Services also employs an attorney who handles cases involving senior citizens, often visiting retirement communities and advising people on living wills, deeds and other issues related to seniors.

While 30 staff members are employed by the agency, Gray says they rely on "lots and lots and lots" of volunteers, many from the U-M Law School.

Ariana Levinson is one of those who volunteers her time. The third-year law student says she finds public interest law to be far more rewarding than working for a large corporate firm.

"The work at a public interest firm is a lot more interesting," she says. "Often in corporate firms you start at the bottom of the firm and spend lots of time doing research. At Legal Services, I've been thrown into cases---working with senior citizens and with adoption issues. The work is more varied, and you get to work closely with your clients."

Levinson believes public interest work often is more difficult than corporate law. "People are being evicted from their homes and getting thrown off welfare." She says she tries to keep a professional distance from clients, but it often is difficult.

She is considering a career in public interest law after graduation because she feels strongly about the need for lawyers to use their skills to help the community. "I think it's important to use the skills I have to help people who can't afford legal representation otherwise."

The University's United Way campaign has reached $646,074 dollars. This year's campaign goal is $1 million-plus, with a theme that asks donors to "give $1 more per week."

Anyone with questions about the campaign can send e-mail to uwquestions@umich.edu.