Miami-Dade County

Legal groups team to provide services for people who can’t afford attorneys

The federal poverty level for one person is $11,670. For a family of two, it’s $15,730. For a family of four, it’s $23,850. Take away food, housing and other basic costs of living and add any legal issues. How do those people and families get help?

Legal Services of Greater Miami helps on average more than 30,000 people and families at or below 125% of the federal poverty guideline. Those who make just enough to no longer qualify can’t actually afford attorneys, which is where Legal Services and the North Dade Bar Association come in.

Both organizations are working together to create a low-fee lawyer referral service that will begin in 2015. The referral service is accepting applications from lawyers with experience handling personal injury, wills and estates, mortgage foreclosure defense and bankruptcies.

“There’s nothing worse than having a person in front of you and saying, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you,’” said Marcia Cypen, Legal Service’s executive director. “Our resources are more limited than they’ve ever been. If somebody is slightly over the income guidelines, we can’t help.”

With a significant decrease in federal, state and local funding, Cypen said this service will help bridge the gap for people turned away by Legal Services. Partnering with the North Dade Bar Association helps promote the service within the association, she said.

All cases referred by Legal Services will be handled on a reduced-fee or contingency basis. Participating attorneys are required to provide a free 30-minute consultation.

Jason Neufeld, president of the North Dade Bar Association and a personal injury attorney, said there are plenty of lawyers who are willing to offer at least 25 percent off their normal rates, a requirement for the referral service.

“Most people can’t afford Greenberg Traurig, for example, but there are plenty of small firms that don’t charge anywhere near that,” he said. “Lawyers have an obligation. They’re still making money. When you find a balance of doing something good for the community and everyone benefits, that’s a win-win.”

Interested lawyers can find the application on the North Dade Bar Association website, www.northdadebar.com, on the “LSGMI Panel Application” tab. Requirements include being in good standing with the Florida Bar, confirming at least 100,000 in professional liability insurance and submitting an application along with a $500 check mailed to Legal Services of Greater Miami, Lawyer Referral Service, attention: Vivian Chavez, 11285 SW 211 St., Suite 302, Miami, FL 33189.

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