Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Legal Clinics at Oberlin Community Services Provide Aid to Town Residents

Abe Frato
Legal aid clinics are held at Oberlin Community Services on East Lorain Street.

Oberlin Community Services is collaborating with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to provide free monthly legal clinics to residents. According to the Legal Aid Society’s website, the clinics provide an opportunity for community members to meet with an attorney to discuss civil issues related to money, housing, family, or employment. 

OCS often receives calls from residents that they then refer to the aid clinics. 

“A lot of times … I’ll be talking to somebody, and I’m like, ‘You know what, that sounds like you really should be talking to legal aid,’ … and a lot of times they’d say, ‘Yeah, that’d be great!’” Kathy Burns, client services coordinator at OCS, said.

A typical appointment involves visitors checking in at the center before meeting with volunteer attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, who often return from previous clinics. With OCS moving to its new location last September, attorneys now have access to larger private office spaces.  

The Society’s volunteer lawyers assist their clients with diverse legal concerns including potential evictions, child support, disability cases, and consumer law consultation that helps in cases involving credit cards and social security. Burns found the clinics particularly useful in dealing with family law concerns. Importantly, the clinics do not handle criminal cases.

“You go over the situation with [clients], review their paperwork, and guide them, saying, ‘This is the kind of paperwork that you need to do. This is how we do the paperwork. You got this. You can do this,’” Burns said.

The clinics are a part of OCS’ efforts to increase the services it provides residents. One of the largest social service organizations in Lorain County with over 50,000 points of service, OCS provides food programs, emergency financial assistance and other resources to its clients. Cleveland Legal Aid joins OCS’ other partner organizations, including the United Way of Lorain County, the Bonner Center of Oberlin College, Kendal at Oberlin, and Lorain County Community College.  

OCS and Cleveland Legal Aid have collaborated for nearly a decade, with consistent services scheduled except for holidays and a longer respite due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The OCS clinics have joined the variety of community initiatives that Cleveland Legal Aid offers to assist low-income Northeast Ohio residents. The organization offers similar advice clinics in the service centers and public libraries of locations like Lorain, Painesville, Ashtabula, and Cleveland. 

“Legal Aid loves to partner with community-based organizations like OCS,” Melanie Shakarian, director of development and communications at Cleveland Legal Aid, wrote in an email to the Review. “Legal Aid provides free services to people who need legal help with issues that affect shelter, safety and economic security. With partners like OCS, together we can extend justice.”

Clinics are usually held the second Tuesday of every month at the OCS’ Cooper Community Resource Center on 500 East Lorain St., with the most recent clinic occurring March 12 from 2–3:30 p.m. These clinics will be planned for the foreseeable future, according to Burns.   

Also in the future, OCS hopes to work with Cleveland Legal Aid to open a more permanent location within the OCS facility. This location would allow for more consistent, walk-in legal services. However, there are no current official plans. 

“It would be a huge benefit to have someone here for an afternoon every week,” Burns said.

She also expressed interest in scheduling information sessions geared to the general public. The Oberlin population could be educated on disability, consumer law, and other legal concerns.

According to its website, OCS’ mission is to “empower area residents … while promoting systemic change.” Burns finds that the Legal Aid Society’s services are key to addressing these systemic issues and communal empowerment.

“Having [these services] available is huge because, … again, I’ll be talking to somebody, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I need to get a lawyer,’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t have to do that. We have a lawyer that you can see for free.’ I think that … it’s a huge empowerment because it’s saving [people’s] money.”

This work’s importance also comes through in its wide reach, bringing in clients from not just Oberlin but across Lorain County, including Elyria, Avon Lake, and Wellington. 

“I just think it’s so important to get the word out that we have this service because we want to be able to protect people’s valuable resources,” Burns said. 

The clinics are by appointment only. They can be scheduled by calling Burns’ office. Appointments often fill quickly, so the organization also maintains a waitlist in case of no-shows or cancellations, maximizing community aid.

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