Free Legal Aid Clinic celebrates 50th anniversary

The Free Legal Aid Clinic Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing free legal services to metro Detroit residents on Saturday, March 28, at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle.

More than 150 Wayne State University Law School students, alumni, faculty and staff, as well as local lawyers, judges and other clinic supporters, attended the anniversary celebration.

The clinic is the only student run, 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal aid organization in the nation.

It was founded in 1965 with the assistance of the National Lawyers Guild when Wayne Law students recognized a need for legal assistance to the low-income community. Law students are guided by licensed attorneys in providing legal assistance. This includes legal aid to some of the area’s most vulnerable groups, such as victims of domestic violence and the elderly. The clinic works to serve the community by closing the gap between need and justice.

The clinic has partnered with the Elder Law and Advocacy Center and Lakeshore Legal Aid. The clinic assists elderly Wayne County residents with
varied and sundry issues, including eviction defense, credit fraud, estate planning, garnishments, contract disputes, mortgage issues and foreclosures, and elder abuse.

The clinic also handles family law cases, primarily divorce and child custody disputes. Additionally, the clinic assists dozens of domestic violence survivors each year in escaping their abusers, procuring personal protection orders against them and reclaiming control over their lives.

Guests at the anniversary celebration perused historical documents and photos from the 50 years of the clinic’s operation, bid on items donated by Detroit businesses to the clinic’s annual silent auction, and enjoyed music by the Cat’s Pajamas and the Grateful Dads, two bands composed of clinic alumni and supporters.

Several speakers topped off the evening, highlighting the history of the clinic:

• Wayne Law Distinguished Professor Alan Schenk.

• Pamela Wall, third-year Wayne Law student and clinic vice chair for 2014-15, reading a statement on behalf of James Lafferty, past executive
director of the National Lawyers Guild and co-founder of the clinic.

• Ronald Helveston, Wayne Law Class of 1966, founding member of the clinic.

• John Royal, president of the Detroit and Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

• Sonya Bellafant, clinic supervising attorney for the Elder Law and Advocacy Center.

• Jillian Peterson, third-year Wayne law student and clinic chair for 2014-15.

• Victoria Lencione, second-year Wayne Law student and clinic chair for 2015-16.