Georgia Legal Services Sets 2012 Priorities, Limits

Low-income Georgians outside of metro-Atlanta served by Georgia Legal Services

By Phyllis J. Holmen
Executive Director, Georgia Legal Services Program

Georgia Legal Services (GLS) is the non-profit statewide law firm that provides legal services in civil cases for very low-income Georgians who live outside the five-county metro Atlanta area.  GLS attorneys help victims of domestic violence find safety and security; seniors untangle the red tape of Medicare and other benefits; families keep a roof over their heads; unemployed workers secure a few months of unemployment benefits; and children to stay in school.  Many of the problems are urgent and most are high-stakes.  Many are resolved without court action, but in ways that make a difference for the client.  Solving these kinds of problems makes every community a better place to live.  GLS offices are located in Albany, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Gainesville, Macon, Savannah, and Valdosta, with an office in Atlanta that serves the “ring” counties outside the core metro area.   
            GLS has experienced cuts in funding totaling more than 18% over the past two years.  The largest funding source is the Legal Services Corporation, which channels grants from a federal appropriation to local non-profit law firms around the country.  It’s a longstanding successful public-private partnership with GLS that is almost forty years old.  The dramatic drop in IOLTA revenues to the Georgia Bar Foundation has also severely impacted GLS.  Over the past two years, we have lost almost 15 lawyer positions, and placed 7 other attorneys on part-time status.  As a result we must carefully “triage” the matters we can accept as well as those that we can no longer accept.
1. Income Maintenance issues, focusing on TANF, food stamps, SSI and SSA cessations
and overpayments, unemployment benefits, consumer issues that threaten income or assets, defense of garnishments or other legal actions that threaten employment, protected income or assets.
2. Access to Health Care, including eligibility for Medicaid, Medicare, Miller Trusts, and
receipt of necessary services available to beneficiaries; foreclosure on vehicles needed for transportation to health care; access to affordable prescription drugs and the indigent care trust fund.
3. Housing including mortgage foreclosures related to the homeplace, evictions from and/or admission to public or subsidized housing, protection of vouchers, nursing home evictions, predatory lending, and utility issues to prevent homelessness.  
4.  Domestic violence including protective orders and related issues such as elder abuse,
child support, housing, Medicaid, food stamps, TANF; contempt actions on temporary protective orders, and divorces for current DV clients who are sued for divorce.
5. Education issues including discipline actions and admissions problems.
1. Cases for money damages (tort cases), including personal injuries, car wrecks, product
liability, and medical malpractice.

2. Employment discrimination.

3. Worker's compensation.

4. Car repair problems.

5. Insurance recoveries.

6. Immigration, other than visas that might be appropriate in addition to other relief for a
victim of family violence.

7. *Family law cases, including divorce, child support, or child custody, including
modifications of any existing order, unless there is current or recent violence and legal action is needed to protect the victim.  

8. Special education cases.

9. *Legitimations, except to prevent placement of the child/ren in foster care or DFCS

10. *Wills except for seniors or persons with critical illnesses, and then only to make
provision for inheritance of the home place of the client. 

11. *Probate, except to establish title to the home where the client lives.

12. Mortgage problems not related to primary residence.

13. Adult guardianship, except where necessary as a remedy to protect the adult from abuse or to secure medical care, including establishment of a Miller Trust for a current or prospective resident of a nursing home. 

14. Case types prohibited by federal law or regulations

  • Criminal cases
  • Any problems involving litigation for a person who is in jail or prison
  • Election redistricting or voting rights
  • Abortion litigation
  • Assisted suicide or mercy killing

15. *Tax or IRS issues.

16. Veterans benefits.

17. Initial applications for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income.
*may be screened for referral to private attorney volunteers.
            The Board of Directors of GLS, composed of lawyer and client representatives from around the state, has approved a statement of Priorities for the Delivery of Legal Services for 2012, which has been synthesized into a set of “Case Acceptance Criteria” and a list of “No Intake or Screening” problems, to enable staff to efficiently identify the most critical problems where we are likely to succeed in making a difference for the client or the family.    We share those documents with you in the interest of transparency and public knowledge about what we are doing for our clients, and also what we cannot do.   I welcome your comments or questions.   Please feel free to contact Phyllis Holmen at 404-563-7710 ext. 1609, or at


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