Kelisha Williams has been trying to get a divorce for five years and said it’s been a long and expensive endeavor.
Last fall, a car accident left her unable to work and without steady income, she couldn’t afford a lawyer.
The cost for legal representation, according to estimates Williams received: between $8,000 to $10,000. But earlier this year, a Third Circuit Court judge referred her to the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic — the Salvation Army’s only free legal service provider in the world, serving low-income metro Detroit residents — and she’s now hopeful she’ll get to a resolution. The 47-year-old Detroiter said it was a relief the court told her about the clinic because otherwise she likely would have been waiting for someone to call her back or tell her they’re not accepting clients.
“It wasn’t hard finding them. It was just hard to get someone to help you,” Williams told the Free Press on a Thursday in June as she waited at the clinic for help on default paperwork to proceed with the divorce. It was the first day the organization opened its in-person clinic after three years of over-the-phone and virtual services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The phone at the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic constantly rings, clinic director Amy Roemer said. The nonprofit has to turn people away when they’re booked with clients. It’s a similar story at other legal aid organizations across the state. More than 1.7 million low-income Michiganders qualify for civil legal aid, however there is only one available attorney for every 5,401 eligible residents, according to the Michigan State Bar Foundation. Legal aid groups say the demand for free housing, family and consumer finance services far outweighs the available funding.
“We’ve never been funded at a level to really provide services. We