By Zack Orsborn
TUPELO – Two years ago, Kay Trapp and Dinetia Newman set out to provide free legal consultations for guests who came for breakfast through All Saints’ Episcopal Church’s Saints’ Brew.
Over biscuits and coffee in the parish hall, Trapp, a retired lawyer, and Newman, a lawyer with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm, answered questions from those in need about child custody, divorce, name changes and driver’s licenses.
Now, they are being awarded with the 2016 Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award from the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project.
The award, presented annually, recognizes “outstanding pro bono legal services.”
According to mvlp.net, the main purpose of the award, established in 1988, is to foster awareness of the need for involvement of the private bar in delivering legal services to the poor, particularly through the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Coker was a “leading advocate” in the cause of making legal services available to all without regard to need. He helped establish MVLP when he served as bar president.
At first, the two lawyers worried that the project wouldn’t take off.
“We wanted to get guests at Saints’ Brew to feel comfortable with a lawyer, somebody they didn’t know and be open about their issues,” Newman said. “There was a period of having lawyers come to breakfast and sit down and talk to the guests.”
Working under the umbrella of the MLVP, they began bringing in four to eight volunteer lawyers to assist with questions.
Eventually, the program began to expand.
“We have expanded so that we’ve included people from outside of Saints’ Brew,” Trapp said. “We send notices about the clinic to the Salvation Army, Helping Hands and food pantries.”
They also brought in experts from Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Social Security Administration for specific questions they couldn’t answer and a translator for Spanish-speaking families.
The best part? The legal services are free.
“We never know who’s coming or what the questions will be,” Newman said. “All they have to do is fill out a sign-up sheet that lists the areas they need help with.”
The clinics, held four times a year, have helped Trapp and Newman expand their knowledge on how many people are left without legal services.
“There is a need for folks who don’t have any financial means to reach a lawyer to talk to them,” Trapp said. “They just need that access.”
“The deck is still stacked against those who don’t have counsel,” Newman added.
With the statewide recognition from the award – which the two said they were honored to receive – and more volunteers, Trapp and Newman want to become more mobile in their services.
“We thought, ‘Is there a way to be mobile?’ Because we’re in the parish hall,” Newman said. “We want to take the legal services more where the people are because the lack of transportation is a big issue.”
The next legal clinic, held in the parish hall at All Saints’ Episocpal Church, will be on Sept. 22 from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.