By Susan L. Wright
As David Rodziewicz, an experienced attorney who volunteers for the monthly Free Legal Clinic in Ormond Beach, explained, "If you get arrested and are facing criminal charges, you get a lawyer, one is provided.
"If you have your house foreclosed or your roof leaks and the contractor who is supposed to fix it doesn't, or you have a dispute with your landlord or are involved in some kind of domestic abuse, unless you can afford a lawyer's fees you're on your own."
Which is a pretty good summation of just what the Legal Advice Clinic for Civil Matters, a free legal clinic sponsored by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, is all about.
The free monthly clinics, in Room 103 in Ormond Beach City Hall on the first Thursday of every month, are open to qualified residents or anyone with a non-criminal legal problem.
The volunteers are all highly qualified and experienced area attorneys, who may not specialize in the exact problem of every client they advise, but do have the expertise to evaluate and recommend a plan of action that will lead the applicants on the right course to resolve their particular problems.
Each client receives a free 30-minute session with an attorney -- enough in most cases for the lawyers to "assess, evaluate and come up with a plan of action," according to Mr. Rodziewicz.
The plan may include helping the recipient to identify the paperwork required to address a problem, along with information on how to fill it out, or referring the person to an attorney who will take the case to litigation.
In some cases, Mr. Rodziewicz said the volunteer attorney will decide to take the case on pro bono, depending on whether the attorney has the necessary expertise.
The Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida already offers similar clinics in Daytona Beach and DeLand. The Ormond Beach clinics just opened in May and, as Mr. Rodziewicz puts it, are still trying to "get the word" out the service is available.
Clients are encouraged to call ahead to qualify and provide information for the preliminary paperwork for each case, but drop-in applicants are also welcome.
Julie Rodemacher, the CLSMF coordinator, is available on site to talk to anyone who arrives without an appointment -- and can check to see if the applicant qualifies right then.
Qualification depends on certain income restrictions, which take into account actual income, number of members of a household, combined household income and other factors.
However, the volunteer attorneys do sometimes spend time talking to those who come in who don't quite qualify -- if their problem is relatively simple and doesn't take up too much time.
Mr. Rodziewski, who has an office just across the Granada bridge, specializes in employment law and business law, not necessarily categories that are often required at the clinic.
"If you are an attorney and can contribute half an hour of your time and totally change the tangent of someone's life, whether it's a landlord-tenant kind of thing, or car sale gone wrong, or a domestic situation, that's just a wonderful thing. In half an hour you can do a lot in a lot of these situations and it's just so worthwhile.
"Even though it's not your specialty, in half an hour you can figure out what the actual, real issues is -- because often it's not what the client thinks it is when they come in, and you can evaluate the problem and come up with a framework for solving it,' he said. "Whether you can solve it right then, or not, you can still make a difference by pointing someone in the right direction to solve it."
"This is an amazing capability," he concluded.
He'd already volunteered for several years at a similar clinic at Tomoka Christian Church, founded by an attorney who has since become a judge.
The work they can do at the clinic helps to equalize the legal system and bring justice to those without the resources to pay the high fees charged by attorneys in private practice, he said.
Ms. Rodemacher, who coordinates clinics for five counties, said there's an ongoing need for such legal help everywhere. The Daytona Beach clinic, which is staffed by attorneys working with the Volunteer Lawyer's Project, is open weekly, serving about 15 clients at each session.
In Ormond Beach this month, only one person had shown up in the first hour -- a walk-in client with a serious issue, which, of course, was confidential.
"It's just a case of building awareness that we're here," Ms. Rodemacher said.
The Ormond Beach Free Legal Clinic is open 3:30-5:30 p.m. To prequalify and make an appointment, call (386) 255-6573, Ext. 2445 or visit csflm.org.