The Waco legal community gets a chance to give back to the city through the Greater Waco Legal Services, an independent nonprofit that provides legal services and representation to those who are unable to afford the services of a private attorney.
“It came out of a desire to really serve the community and really address these gaps in access to justice that plague our entire nation and all of our communities,” Kent McKeever, executive director of Greater Waco Legal Services, said. “Just to really dig in deep to a community and really listen and bend to the needs of a community is how it started.”
Greater Waco Legal Services was born in January of 2017 as an offspring of Mission Waco Legal Services. The legal services section of Mission Waco was founded in 2012, and in January the new part of this branch was established by McKeever and five volunteer attorneys on the Greater Waco Legal Services Board as an outgrowth of Mission Waco and an opportunity to grow the program and to provide more legal services for the community.
“All of our clients from Mission Waco Legal Services transferred with us, so we’ve been continuing to represent former clients as well as meet with a growing number of immigration clients,” McKeever said. “In our current context, there’s a lot of justifiable anxiety and concern, so we’ve been meeting with a lot more immigrant individuals and families to address their situation and provide further legal services if we can.”
Mainly, Greater Waco Legal Services provides legal advice clinics, consultations, legal representation and practice for immigrant clients, McKeever said. Greater Waco Legal Services also provides advocacy for legal barriers to employment such as driver license issues and criminal record histories that prevent people from finding steady employment. McKeever said a vast majority of clients are immigrant clients, and there has been a significant increase in the request for information and services with recent political events. There is a fee waiver, according to the website, for those who cannot pay the nominal fee. More information can be found online about how to schedule a consultation appointment and the details of receiving services.
“I hope to say the city has benefited from competent legal representation and really growing the access to the justice system for low income individuals and families,” McKeever said. “Also I think that the legal community has another place to give back to the community and serve us with their legal skills, and I think that has been an important piece.”
McKeever said the process usually starts by determining if consultation is needed for a client, then assessing their needs and providing services if necessary. Michelle Tuegel, criminal defense attorney, partner with the law firm Hunt and Tuegel and member of the Greater Waco Legal Services board, said as a board member she serves, advises and assists McKeever with the legal clinic work. Tuegel also said a lot of the work she is doing now with the clinic is immigration-based as that is a high need right now.
“The legal clinic helps people with small problems that are big in their lives,” Tuegel said. “We do things that a lot of lawyers wouldn’t even take a phone call for. Kent is working it out for people who can’t afford an attorney. I’m happy to help as much as I can.”
Tuegel said she believes the immigrants are a part of the community, and she enjoys helping McKeever with his work as it creates a bridge. Many people are afraid to talk to someone in the legal process, but Greater Waco Legal Services allows individuals and families to come out of the shadows and consult with an attorney to get information, Tuegel said. Clients that use the clinic typically have complex issues, and Greater Waco Legal Services allows people who aren’t citizens to figure out a way of legally getting through the system, Tuegel said.
“Our immigrant community is vital to the prosperity of Waco,” McKeever said. “I think that they provide a labor force that is essential to our economy, and the immigrant community also provides a cultural piece and an aspect of diversity that is a beautiful piece of who we are as Waco.”