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Legal center advocates for civil justice on campus

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At the peak of vulnerability, the Community Legal Clinic strives to provide access to civil justice by instilling hope in the hearts of those in need.

Maria Segarra, an attorney, and Skyline professor of legal studies, devotes her time to those in need of legal assistance in San Mateo county.

“I am an advocate, that’s my calling,” Segarra said. “I care about representing people who face barriers and…doing what I can to ensure that they have a decent shot at life.”

Segarra specializes in cases regarding housing, immigration and family law such as restraining orders and domestic violence. In the three years the clinic has been open, the number of people who’ve had access to civil justice has doubled, Segarra said.

Being provided with a free attorney is a privilege afforded to certain cases in the criminal court system but not in the civil system. All issues regarding immigration, housing and custody issues fall under the umbrella of civil cases, which means those in need are on their own to find legal aid. This is why Segarra believes access to civil justice through legal aid is crucial.

The legal clinic offers pro bono aid by means of consultations, review of documents and referrals to non-profit law agencies. Each appointment is around thirty minutes long and is co-lead by a legal studies student and Segarra herself. Appointments can be made online or through the SparkPoint Center located on the Skyline College campus.

“The legal clinic provides free, safe and convenient legal services for students and the community,” said Chad Thompson, director of SparkPoint.

The clinic attracts individuals from across the board in age, demographics and income. However, a recurring theme in recent cases has been immigration.

Nikki McLaughlin, office assistant at the Career Advancement Academy said that the recent executive orders concerning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, drew many individuals to the doors of the clinic.

The orders instilled fear in the community. People were concerned about their status and looked for guidance regarding what they should or shouldn’t do, McLaughlin said.

As part of the Legal Studies program, students have the choice to work with the Legal Clinic. McLaughlin, who is not only an office assistant but also a former Skyline student, shed some light on her experience.

“It’s been eye-opening,” McLaughlin said. “If you don’t have empathy, you will have empathy by the end. And if you already have empathy, you’ll have even more.”

McLaughlin chose to work with the legal clinic because she wanted to work with and for her community. She finds the feeling of helping others rewarding and thinks it takes courage to approach an attorney, who is a complete stranger about a legal issue, even though they are bound by confidentiality.

“You see a weight lifted off their shoulders,” McLaughlin said. “They are empowered with options when they thought there were none.”

Although the clinic has its limitations and cannot represent a client in full capacity, Segarra feels it is a privilege to be able to help.

“To be there with them, to provide assistance, however small is very meaningful,” Segarra said.

 

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The student news site of Skyline College.
Legal center advocates for civil justice on campus