Free Legal Aid Clinics: Asking "Why?"

Since the fall of 2013, the Institute for Law, Justice and Society has hosted legal aid clinics that are free and open to the public. Our Influencing Change class worked on a vision for these legal clinics to better define the mission and purpose behind them. The following is an reflection essay by a student from the Influencing Change class.

Samantha Masokas | Contributing Author | smasokas@mail.lipscomb.edu

By reaching out to the Nashville community in the form of providing free legal aid, the department of Law, Justice and Society is creating a strategy for change. And in doing so, there must be a purpose. As we get wrapped up in the questions of what, where, and how these possible changes will take place, it can become easy to forget the question of “why.” Why does Lipscomb University want to change the community’s conditions? And does the Law, Justice & Society program even have the ability to make such an impact on the community?

First and more specifically, we must address what exactly we are trying to change. By bringing free legal services into the community we are reaching out to those who either cannot afford legal help or those who are just simply unaware of what initial direction to head in with their concerns. Being able to ask someone a question or two about a legal concern they have can put any mind at ease, especially if we can provide such an opportunity in a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment. LJS wants to give the people of Nashville the aid that they, and every other citizen of America, deserve. This aid is not intended, by any means, to be in the charity sense, but more so to exercise the freedoms the American people have when it comes to taking their case to court, whatever that case may be. However, the majority of the time these people simply do not have the resources or understanding to go about getting what they justly deserve. LJS wants to break the barrier between the common citizens of Nashville and the often times intimidating, upper-class attorneys that far too frequently seem out of reach.

The Law, Justice, and Society program at Lipscomb University directly states, “[LJS] looks at the legal system as a vehicle for bringing about social change.” What better way to go about bringing social change then to provide free legal services straight to the heart of Lipscomb’s community? The word “society” is in our title and is therefore an important aspect of why we study what we study.

Is Lipscomb capable of making an impact on Nashville? Absolutely. It will take work and even practice to determine what has the best effects, what works and what does not, but overall, LJS has exactly what it needs to take the steps to turn this plan into a reality. There are resources available, a number of students ready to work, and connections expanding all over the city. Lipscomb has dozens of community partners through its SALT (serving and learning together) program. Lipscomb states, “Collaborative work with community partners is vital to the success of The SALT Program.  Our hope is that collectively, through these service-learning experiences, we all will have greater capacity to create positive change in a community where we all reside.” Lipscomb University’s mission statement is also the perfect answer to the question “why?” Why do we want to change these conditions of the community?  “Faith. Community. Knowledge. Innovation. Service." These are the five unshakeable pillars that make us who we are. As the world evolves, Lipscomb will always look for more ways to live out our ideals. What will never change, however, is our commitment to intentionally, courageously, and graciously obey God’s will.” It is so clearly evident that Lipscomb wants to make a difference in the Nashville community.  By realizing the need for legal aid, the university can use its specific program that works so closely to study the legal system to help live out this powerful mission statement. “At Lipscomb University, we believe that as knowledge grows in use, it also grows in value. With the lessons of our classrooms, we work in the world. With the certainty of our faith, we serve the good of all. With the experiences of our past, we plan for the future. We believe that when you know your gifts, your God, and your direction, you confidently welcome what comes next…This mission is carried out not only in the classroom but also by involvement in numerous services to the church and the larger community.”

Before the questions of what, when, and where can be answered, it is important to know why we want to take on the task of providing free legal aid to the community. This is a loaded question that can have many answers, but what it truly comes down to is that we want to bring help to the people of Nashville because as members of Lipscomb University that is what we are called to do. As Law, Justice, and Society students planning on only advancing in the field of law and justice someday, that is what we are called to do. We are called to live out faith, community, knowledge, innovation and service and we can do so by faithfully bringing knowledge and innovation to our community through service. 

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