Friday, May 18, 2012

Another Reason to Invest in CitySquare: City Square Legal Action Works

One of the programs that makes CitySquare unique is it's public interest law firm. CitySquare L.A.W. (Legal Action Works), takes the cases that other firms usually won't take - because the clients can't afford to pay.

That's another aspect of poverty that you generally don't hear about, at least as it to relates to our law practice. We know our poor and low income neighbors usually don't have the money to defend themselves in criminal trials. But that's also true when it comes to divorce, domestic violence and custody cases as well. CitySquare LAW fills that gap.

This month's "'D' Magazine" profiles our law firms fine work.

Suffice it to say we're all proud!

"CitySquare’s LAW (Legal Action Works) Center helps low-income Dallas families and has become an integral part of CitySquare’s mission to strike at the root causes of poverty in Dallas. The LAW Center office can be best described by what it lacks: no fine wood crown molding, no library full of thick books, and no leather couches. Efficiency is key, and no dollar is wasted on extravagances. On days when the attorneys aren’t in trial, the dress code is a polo shirt and jeans." 

"At the moment, LAW Center has three attorneys and two support staff. The offices are on the third floor of CityWalk@Akard, where they are close to some of their clients. The decor is plain and serviceable. Each office is no larger than a confessional. Boxes of file folders tower next to the desks. College degrees and children’s art adorn the walls. The doors are always open, and staff meetings are held only when the stars align with their schedules. It’s the energy of type-A personalities, passionate and in close quarters..."

"People often misunderstand the needs of the poor. Charitable organizations can waste resources treating symptoms without fixing the unjust system that created the poverty. They feed the hungry without fixing the famine. Moved by the plight of poor families, businessman Jim Sowell and Preston Road Church of Christ launched the Central Dallas Food Pantry in 1988, but they soon realized that the needs of the poor were far more complex than just hunger. A food pantry wasn’t enough."

"In 1994, Larry James stepped in as president and CEO of the nonprofit. They changed the name to Central Dallas Ministries and expanded in other areas, adding a workforce component to the organization. More recently, they changed their name to CitySquare and added low-income housing. Their building, CityWalk@Akard, is the first affordable housing development in downtown Dallas in living memory. But housing wasn’t enough."

"“We’re trying to go way beyond charity,” James says. The organization uses a learn-by-listening approach. James trusts that the poor know their situations better than anyone. “From the early going, we were hearing people ask about legal representation.” With criminal cases, CitySquare can refer people to the public defender’s office, but many wanted to know about civil court. So the organization created the LAW Center, and CitySquare found where it could make its greatest impact in fighting poverty..."

Legal issues can be devastating and are compounded when people attempt to represent themselves or ignore the problem, which is often the case with the impoverished. “Poor people, low-income people, do not show up in civil and family law courts in Dallas County with much of a chance,” James says. “When they show up with our lawyers, we almost never lose. We settle a lot of stuff out of court. But when we go to court, since ’99 I can count on two hands the number of times it got handed back to us. We kick butt, because these lawyers are 

"Ken Koonce joined the LAW Center as a calling of faith. He had worked in business litigation, handling collections, business torts, and insurance disputes. It was good work, but none of it satisfied his need to help others. As James explains it, “Ken was tired and disillusioned. He came to me. He said, ‘I want to move into nonprofit work and I want to work with you guys doing something.’ ” James eventually convinced Koonce to return to where his talents were. “I finally told him, ‘Ken, you’re going to remain frustrated because your talent and your gift is the law.’ ” Koonce decided to give his law career a second chance as the director of CitySquare’s program in 2005. He describes his calling this way: “It’s an opportunity I never saw coming but didn’t want to refuse.”

Still another reason to invest in our work! 

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