Imagine if you could not afford the court and attorney fees necessary to seek a divorce from an abusive relationship or that you are unemployed and unable to pay your mortgage. During this challenging economic time and period of high unemployment, many in our community may face a crisis that requires legal assistance.
South Carolina Legal Services is a statewide law firm that provides civil legal services to protect the rights and represent the interest of low-income South Carolinians. SCLS represents clients in education, housing, bankruptcy, foreclosure, employment, tax, family, elder, and consumer law. To meet financial eligibility, clients must fall within 125% of the federal poverty guidelines (income thresholds determined by household size) or 200% in extenuating cases, such as those involving a protective order.
The need for legal representation for low-income individuals far exceeds the available resources, particularly in rural areas where access to the law is limited by geography and in many cases, unemployment. Realizing this need, SCLS has expanded its offices beyond Columbia to Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston, Conway, Georgetown, Greenwood, Orangeburg, Rock Hill, and has satellite offices in Aiken, Saluda, Marion, and Anderson.
Thomas Trent is a managing attorney at SCLS and has been with the firm since 1986. He enjoys the ability to assist individuals who otherwise would have not have access to the judicial system and takes pride in how SCLS has changed its clients’ lives for the better.
“When I read the thank-you letters we get for taking people out of abusive situations or helping a family keep the roof over their head, I’m reminded of why I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” said Mr. Trent. “It’s great to know that you’re making a difference in someone’s life.”
The cases that most frequently come across Mr. Trent’s desk include custody, housing, public benefits, and consumer finance. Mr. Trent hopes to help educate the public about the SC Help Program—a mortgage assistance program created by the economic stimulus of 2009. The SC Help Program allows qualifying homeowners going through unemployment or financial hardship avoid to apply for up to one year or $36,000 in monthly payment assistance. Individuals apply through SCLS’s website at www.sclegal.org and are later connected to an SCLS counselor who will assist them with filling out and submitting all of the necessary forms.
In addition to legal counsel, SCLS provides free education clinics on foreclosure, debt collection, bankruptcy, divorce, and other legal matters. Subject to availability, organizations can contact SCLS to have an attorney speak to their group at no cost. “If a business or non-profit needs us to do a clinic for their staff, we’ll be glad to put one together for them,” states Mr. Trent. “We want people to know that we’re accessible.”
SCLS also shares free legal information in their online legal library, which contains self-help court-approved forms. It is SCLS’s hope that these initiatives will grant low-income families the tools to help them exercise their rights and increase their access to legal services.