In 1965, John S. Ecclestone II (’66), Ronald R. Helveston (’66), Charles H. Richards (’66), William G. Segesta (’66), and Stanton Walker('66), along with the support of 70 other law students from Wayne State University, founded the Free Legal Aid Clinic (FLAC) with contributions from private donors. FLAC was originally established after the Michigan Supreme Court adopted a court rule allowing law students to represent indigent people in a clinical setting under the supervision of an attorney. The on-going purpose of FLAC is to offer legal assistance to indigent clients while providing practical experience to law students.
Originally sponsored by the Detroit Chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild and several Wayne County Circuit Court judges, the Clinic began operations in an abandoned store on Grand River in Detroit. Throughout its history, FLAC has been run by a Student Board of Directors elected each spring by students working at the clinic. In conjunction with the supervising attorneys, the Board is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the clinic.
FLAC became affiliated with Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services (WCNLS) in the fall of 1969. The Clinic moved into an office located at Grand River and Trumbull in Detroit in 1971. At that time, the office was staffed by a full-time attorney, funded by the Model Cities Program, which financed a Misdemeanor Defense Program and provided most of the funding for Clinic operations. Additionally, FLAC had a civil component funded by WCNLS which provided two part-time attorneys. Several private attorneys also volunteered their services.
In 1973, FLAC moved to a converted motel on Woodward Avenue in Detroit where they shared offices with the medical component of the Model Cities Program. At that time, FLAC was staffed by a full-time civil attorney employed by WCNLS who supervised the entire operation. There were also two attorneys who were assigned to the Model Cities Misdemeanor Program. The Clinic handled general civil work as well as representing indigent clients from the Model Cities area.
In 1976, the funding for the Model Cities Program was substantially reduced. The Misdemeanor component lost its funding completely and the Clinic was required to vacate its offices. However, FLAC was able to make arrangements with Wayne State University to use space in the basement of a building at 4866 Third Street, where the Clinic remained until 1997. The Clinic continued to provide representation in civil matters under the supervision of one attorney who was employed by WCNLS until 1984 when WCNLS added a staff attorney. Then, in 1997, Wayne State University relocated FLAC to a newly acquired building just off campus located at 5435 Woodward Avenue.
At that time, FLAC became unaffiliated with WCNLS and formed a partnership with Legal Aid and Defender Association (LAD). LAD generously provided four supervising attorneys and student attorneys provided legal representation in family law matters. This partnership continued until late 2007.
FLAC continues operating today in conjunction with two legal aid organizations. FLAC joined forces with the Elder Law and Advocacy Center in early 2008 to provide free legal aid to senior citizens in Wayne county, under the direct supervision of two part-time attorneys. FLAC also partnered with Lakeshore Legal Aid in summer 2008 to assist low-income Wayne county residents with their family law matters, and works under the direct supervision of one full-time attorney.
FLAC continues to search for volunteer attorneys and new ventures in order to continue its mission of serving the Wayne County low-income population.