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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Legal Aid Assists Locals

Ada agency provides services to low income individuals, senior citizens

By Susan Ingram

ADA - Legal Aid Service of Oklahoma, 410 S. Mississippi, has been providing services to senior citizens and low income individuals since 1978. There are 10 main Legal Aid offices throughout the state of Oklahoma and the main office for this region is in Ardmore. Ada is considered a satellite office. Both offices serve an eight county area which includes Carter, Jefferson, Johnston, Love, Marshall, Murray, and Pontotoc counties.

"We provide assistance in civil, not criminal, law. Basically it is an area of law referred to as poverty law and they don't really teach it in law school," said KayKaren Kennedy, attorney for LASO. "It's about entitlements, benefits, subsidized housing, food stamps, TANF, and social security. Things that are issues for people who are economically challenged."

The Ada office averages 500 clients a year of which about 52 percent are considered family law issues.

"We have a lot of family law cases like custody cases, divorces, domestic violence and child abuse. We see many of the custody cases right before school starts and after the first of the year," Kennedy said.

The LASO office in Ada recently moved to a new location after being on 12th Street for many years. They have three attorneys on staff, two paralegals, and one administrative assistant. These professionals divide their time between Ada and Ardmore.

"We get about 1,700 - 1,800 calls a year for the whole eight county area between the two offices," said Kennedy. "We now have a toll-free number for Ada. We expect in the future to hear from more people in Murray, Johnston, and Garvin counties."

LASO also has a pro-bono program. Under this program several local attorneys in Ada help to meet the needs of the clients. Many times one client can be in need of several different legal services.

"We had one woman that had cancer," said Bobbie Nichols. Nichols has been a paralegal for the Ada LASO office since it opened 29 years ago. "I did the social security case for her, while Karen did the guardianship work for the children. We also prepared a will for her. She received her money from social security right before she died."

LASO gives legal advice and counsel to anyone over the age of 60. Anyone who is not a senior citizen has to be financially eligible to receive LASO's services. They use the Congressional poverty guidelines when deciding eligibility.

The United Way provides some of the funding for the LASO office in Ada.

"Ada has been very blessed to keep Legal Aid here and United Way has been a big part of it," Nichols said.

"They help us with the pamphlets and brochures we hand out and they help provide us with facilities," said Kennedy. "We are a statewide law firm so we receive some money from grants, the state legislature, private donations and fund drives. Untied Way is a big chunk of all of those monies because we are also a part of the United Way in Ardmore and Oklahoma City, not just Ada. The United Way, the social service agencies, and churches refer people to us. We have a good network. Once you become a United Way agency it just opens up all kinds of resources."

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