Legal Aid services help those in need

by Dianne Riddles

Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc., (LASO) is a 501c3 non-profit law firm that provides free legal assistance to eligible low-income persons and senior citizens who are experiencing civil legal issues.

LASO has 21 law offices located throughout Oklahoma, providing clients in every county access to the offered services.

According to Managing Attorney Kade McClure, who has been at the Lawton office for over 35 years, LASO seeks to ensure the basic needs for clients: freedom from harm and violence; income maintenance for survival; access to housing; freedom from hunger; and access to health care.

“Our priorities are to first ensure the safety of our clients and then work to secure food, housing and a source of income,” McClure said.

LASO provides these services without fees for eligible clients. The client’s income, assets and family size, among other factors, determine client eligibility.

According to McClure, LASO has been able to help a few Cameron students in the past.

“We have helped students with issues such as recovering security deposits and landlord repairs,” he said.

McClure explained that landlord/tenant disputes and evictions are instances in which a student might need help.

“We have economic guidelines that are based on poverty,” McClure said. “Sometimes a student who requires legal assistance qualifies for our services after figuring the student’s PELL and what the student spent on books and tuition.”

LASO does not assist with criminal defenses or provide representation for incarcerated individuals. Additionally, because demand exceeds the capacity of the staff, most cases must meet a condition of immediate severity.

McClure said that the biggest demand for LASO is family law, especially cases involving domestic violence. Children are the biggest benefactors, as LASO strives to stabilize their families through the issues of custody, child support and divorce.

“Family law is a big area—adoption, custody, child support, guardianship—but the priority in all of our family law is protection from domestic violence,” McClure said. “However, we do not say that you have to be abused to be eligible for our services.”

McClure explained one Oklahoma state law that helps protect children from violence.

“If your children are abused by your spouse and you know about it, it is possible that the state can file an action against you for neglect or abuse of your children and take both you and your spouse to court,” said McClure. “That is, if you knew about it and did not protect your children.”

In 2008, 230 private attorneys handled at least one LASO case. In that same year, LASO staff and pro bono attorneys closed 20,212 statewide cases that touched the lives of 35,187 people, including 15,324 children.

Additionally, LASO represents elderly people who are seeking social security or other public benefits, and helps elderly people resolve issues of guardianship. The group also helps individuals faced with losing their housing through mortgage foreclosures. LASO assists individuals with cases involving Medicare and Medicaid, and helps them receive the entitlements for which they qualify.

According to McClure, to handle the demand many private Oklahoma attorneys volunteer their time and expertise to LASO. Some private attorneys teach in LASO clinics; however, most often, the attorneys advise clients and help them fill out legal forms; they also take on simple cases for full representation.

McClure encouraged anyone wanting to make a donation to do so through the United Way.

“We are a United Way Agency and it really does take a team effort,” McClure said. “Marie Detty, the Women’s Shelter, the Lawton Community Food Bank—it takes a lot of agencies working as a team to take care of a community; we are really lucky to have such a great United Way.”

Anyone under age 60 requiring LASO services would first call 1.888.534.5243 and anyone age 60 or over would call 1.855.488.6814 to qualify.

More information about LASO and  eligibility or how to make donations is available at www.legalaidok.org.

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