Founded in 1994, the Community Legal Center – an integral part of the Memphis law community that provides legal services to the poor – is fast approaching its 20th birthday.
Meg Jones, executive director of the CLC, said there will be some special activities planned around that anniversary. In the meantime, work continues at the center representing not the people in poverty served by Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., but the people classified as low income who can’t afford an attorney.
That means taking on a lot of civil cases and a good bit of family law, Jones said. To do that, the center has three part-time staff attorneys – one has a general focus, one is a family law attorney and one is an immigration attorney. There are also about 200 attorneys who help by taking on cases on a pro bono basis. And the center has a translator, in addition to several volunteers.
“We’re a small organization – an independent legal service,” Jones said. “We’re housed inside MIFA, which is wonderful, and we really leverage resources to the hilt. We get money from private and local foundations, a little from the state and we do a fundraiser in the fall. It’s a fashion show sponsored by the Laurelwood Shopping Center and Mercedes-Benz, along with a number of other sponsors.”
“We’re a small organization — an independent legal service.”
Executive Director, CLC
The center’s original mission was to provide free mediation services to people with limited means.
“At that time, Memphis Area Legal Services was so overwhelmed by divorces,” Jones said. “So it was a desire to handle a lot of those divorces, and the plan was to handle them by mediation. The problem was once it got started, so few people trying to get divorced could actually mediate.”
While there were few mediations that could be pursued, the center, meanwhile, got lots of requests for other kinds of legal services. So in 1995, the center’s board drew up a plan to create a legal services program and clinic to provide legal representation as well as mediation for the working poor.
“For immigration issues, we focus on things like asylum cases and other human rights cases,” Jones said. “For the civil cases we serve Shelby County, and for immigration cases we serve people in the jurisdiction of the immigration court in Memphis, so some of Kentucky, eastern Arkansas, North Mississippi and of course Memphis.”
The CLC does not handle criminal matters, bankruptcy, worker’s compensation, personal injury cases or any other matters that generate attorneys’ fees. The CLC has worked closely with Memphis Area Legal Services, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA).