Dealing with the legal system in a courtroom can be a stressful time, but you don’t have to go it alone. The Legal Assistance Center in Grand Rapids has been helping people across West Michigan for nearly two decades and it’s completely free.
“In civil cases, you do not have a constitutional right to a lawyer. I think people think you do because you hear about it in criminal cases”, says Tom Sinas of Sinas-Dramis Law Firm. Civil cases involve matters of married parents filing for divorce, unmarried parents dealing with custody, parenting time, child support, evictions, simple estates, guardianship, conservatorship and similar situations. The Legal Assistance Center averages eighteen thousand visits per year. “When you take into consideration children and other household members, we’re probably impacting 10% of the people in Kent County in any given year,” said Deborah Hughes, the executive director of the LAC.
The LAC is open four days a week, Tuesdays thru Fridays from 8:30am-5pm and is located on the fifth floor of the Kent County Courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids. It’s staffed with one full-time attorney, at-least one paralegal, and several volunteer undergraduate law students. However, the LAC does not give legal advice, nor does it provide legal representation. “We break the process down into steps. Okay today you will do step one, here’s what will happen next. When you get to step two you can come back and we’ll assist you with that, and on until they get to the conclusion of whatever their matter is”, explains Hughes.
The LAC is funded three ways. By donors, like Sinas-Dramis Law Firm, also thru an annual grant from Kent County Commissioners. Lastly, the LAC charges a small fee to people who choose to make extra copies of their documents. No appointment is necessary and consultations are based on a walk-in basis.