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Community Legal Aid Services names 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award recipients

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 29, 2013

For some lawyers pro bono work is an obligation but for others it is a responsibility that they are eager to fulfill, speaking to the very essence of why they entered the legal field-- to lend a helping hand to those in need.

It is such dedication for which Community Legal Aid Services Inc. created its Volunteer of the Year Award. In 2012 the nonprofit law firm chose two recipients, J. Dean Carro, longtime law professor and director of the legal clinic at The University of Akron School of Law and Akron solo practitioner Lynn M. Clark.

“These two attorneys are different in many ways, but what they share is a common desire to inspire the good works of others and fight for equal justice,” said Jennifer van Dulmen, managing attorney of the Volunteer Legal Services Program and Intake Unit at Community Legal Aid in Akron.

The organization serves low-income residents and seniors in eight Ohio Counties, including Summit, Stark, Mahoning, Portage, Medina, Columbiana, Trumbull and Wayne.

Van Dulmen said Community Legal Aid considered between 150 and 200 attorneys in Summit County for the 2012 Volunteer of the Year award.

“We were looking for candidates who took on a significant client matter, had an outstanding number of cases or had undertaken a long-term commitment,” said van Dulmen.

In the case of Carro, he said he spent about 25 hours handling a variety of pro bono matters at the homeless shelter through Community Legal Aid alone, performing about 100 hours in total pro bono activities during 2012.

“There is a great need,” said Carro. “American citizens with civil problems are not well served. If a criminal defendant is indigent, the person is entitled to representation, however, if the same person is involved in a civil case there is no such right, so attorneys need to step up and fill the void.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Carro moved to Akron in 1975 to attend The University of Akron School of Law, where he received his juris doctor degree. In his case, he never left, taking a job as a professor and assistant coordinator of the legal clinic right after graduating and passing the bar.

Today, Carro wears many hats at the school, including dean’s club professor of law, professor of clinical law and director of the Legal Clinic and Appellate Review Office.

“It has been a dream job,” said Carro. “It lets me practice law, deal with young minds and gives me the flexibility to do pro bono work.”

In the law school’s legal clinic, Carro said he trains students who represent indigent clients in trials as well as state and federal appeals. Carro said he has been involved with Community Legal Aid since getting his law degree.

“With great privilege comes great obligation,” said Carro, who is retiring in June. “We as lawyers have a monopoly on the practice of law and we need to pay back as much as we can by helping those in need.”

“Dean has shown that he is the kind of attorney that leads by example,” said van Dulmen, who added that he has undertaken pro bono matters without trying to bring attention to himself.

“For years, Dean has been the kind of attorney that we hope all attorneys strive to be. He is smart, hard working, fair, and he doesn't back away from a fight when he is in the right,” van Dulmen said.

“He knows that justice without equality is not really justice at all. I know he also wants to help people in need, but to me one of his greatest attributes is the fact that he is a great role model to future generations of attorneys.”

Since Carro is retiring van Dulmen said she did not want the organization to miss the opportunity to highlight all his good work and years of contributions.

Clark grew up in Northfield, Ohio and holds several degrees, including a master’s degree in public administration and a law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

She has taught in The University of Akron’s sociology department and law school. In addition to her pro bono legal work, she was involved for several years in Akron’s First Night events as well as nonprofit organizations that serve low-income people, like the Summit County Reentry Network and Summit County Public Health.

Clark said she first got involved with Community Legal Aid while she was working for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority as a Section 8 director.

“It was my first day on the job and I did not have a law degree at the time,” said Clark. “My bosses were shocked when I met with legal aid attorneys because it was like crossing the line but I felt that if I was going to do my job effectively I needed to understand all sides of the issues so I could know what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong.”

She said she has remained friends with the same attorneys over the years, working on a variety of issues, including the foreclosure crisis.

“Judge Tom Teodosio was elected the Summit County Council president in 2003 and he headed up a task force that looked at the housing crisis. Even back then the number of foreclosures was rising sharply and we did a report that talked about the problem which we saw coming but could not stop,” said Clark.

Over the years Clark has tackled other problems like the lack of access to healthcare.

“I was on the Summit County Public Health board of directors for over 20 years,” said Clark. “We do a lot of good work to help people in Summit County, the problem is the services are not reaching enough people because they do not know they exist. More must be done to educate the public about the resources that are available.”

Today Clark has her own practice where she focuses on landlord/tenant disputes as well as civil rights issues. She said she spent about 500 hours doing pro bono work in 2012.

“A lot of my practice is pro bono,” said Clark. “I try to help my clients avoid litigation and solve their problems out of court. I have seen my fair share of courtrooms but my goal is to come up with practical solutions that solve the current problem and prevent future ones.”

In 1996 Clark received the Volunteer of the Year Award from Western Reserve Legal Services (now Community Legal Aid).

“I was surprised they gave it to me again,” said Clark. “A lot of people do work for legal aid. I am at a place in my life where I can give back and do things for those who can’t afford to hire an attorney.”

Clark said her parents were great role models. “My mother ran a food cupboard for a number of years and my dad hired people with disabilities to work at his company, making a point that they were not charity cases.

“It all comes down to what does it take to make the community valuable, and what can we do to raise it up,” said Clark.

“Lynn looks at clients and their problems holistically,” said van Dulmen. “Over the years, she has demonstrated her desire to solve people's problems by accepting cases for clients with difficult or unusual legal matters, such as the mentally ill, people with physical disabilities who need special help or people who are transient and are difficult to maintain contact with.

“I know Lynn also sees pro bono as part of her professional obligation, but to me she seems to be on a personal crusade, fighting for equal justice for those who can't carry the fight for themselves.”

Van Dulmen will present the 2012 Volunteer of the Year awards at the Law Day Luncheon on Wednesday, May 1, at Greystone Hall at 103 S. High St. in Akron.