Lawyers in Levis could offer free answers to some legal questions
People needing nothing more than an answer to a simple legal question could soon be able to walk into a free legal clinic and talk to a lawyer casually dressed in Levis.
Carson City lawyer Ed Bernard has been in private practice for more than 30 years but now says he would like to give something back.
Working closely with Jim Peckham, executive director of Friends In Service Helping, Bernard hopes to bring a free legal clinic to town.
“Carson City has been very good to me, and I’ve done very well, but I’m 63 now, and I’ve had a sense for the last few years that I wanted to do something for my community,” Bernard said.
Bernard said he participated in a similar free legal clinic model in South Lake Tahoe about 25 years ago, where people could come in for a 20-minute consultation with a lawyer.
“We were amazed to find out that people were asking questions like, ‘Can I go to jail for not paying a utility bill?’ We were scratching our heads that these kinds of questions were even out there,” he said.
“And we found out that people were so appreciative. Most people have no access to a lawyer. I remember thinking at the time that someday I wanted to do this myself, and now that I’ve been successful and had some high-profile cases, I thought this would be a good time,” he said.
Bernard said he talked with Peckham and some of the FISH board members, and they said they had the facility and would like to be able to collaborate.
Peckham said the program would likely be a success.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to provide some legal resources for the community,” Peckham said. “Our goal at FISH is to try to fill the services where they don’t exist, so it makes sense to be able to provide some legal advice and consultations to our clients.”
Initially, he thinks, the legal clinic could be one day a week for people to come in and get their simple legal questions answered.
Bernard said the logistics haven’t been worked out yet, but each lawyer could conceivably work three or four hours at a time and see two or three people an hour.
There would be strings attached, but only for the lawyer’s and client’s protection. Waivers would include such things as no attorney/client relationships, no copying of documents and no referrals to the lawyer’s private practice if more help should be needed, Bernard said.
Bernard said 70 letters to lawyers went out Thursday, and he’s hoping for a good response – maybe even an interpreter.
“I think a lot of mature lawyers would get a kick out of this,” he said. “We’re so used to being in court arguing cases or getting documents filed by a certain time that we lose sight of the fact that many members of the community can’t access us with their most basic questions.”