Everyday Hero: Woman helps those who can't afford legal aid

By Bill Murphy, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 3:21 PM EDT

Many of us take legal advice for granted. It's easy to pick up the phone and make a call for those times when you need an attorney, but for many people, it's not an option.

In today's Everyday Hero report, Bill Murphy introduces us to a Sarasota woman opening doors and providing an option for those who can't afford legal aid.

It’s called Legal on Your Own, started by attorney and Florida Supreme Court certified Circuit Court Mediator Michele Stephan.

“If you are not able to afford an attorney or you just want to do your own case on your own, you can come in, I’ll sit down, I’ll meet with you,” Stephan said. “I’ll explain the law and the process. I’ll talk to you about the facts of your particular case and then I’ll give you legal advice on what I think, as a lawyer, you should do.”

Stephan has spent years donating her time and experience and currently runs a free weekly legal clinic at Resurrection House in Sarasota, a faith-based resource center and day shelter.

Legal on Your Own is open to all including those who don’t qualify for free legal aid but don’t earn enough to afford a full-time attorney. This “ala cart” approach can save thousands by paying for only what you need.

“If you don’t have a lawyer and you need assistance and you go in the clerk’s office they’re going to say, ‘I’m sorry but we’re not lawyers. We can’t give you legal advice.’ If you go to the law library they’re not lawyers,” Stephan said. “They can’t give you legal advice. If you come here, I’m a lawyer and I can give you legal advice.”

Its website lists the many areas of help available.

Often today people choose to represent themselves. And when they’re successful, Michele shares in their pride.

“It brings me a lot of joy to have my clients walk out and actually feel empowered, like I’ve helped them not only with their case but also gave them the confidence to step out there and maybe fight for something else,” Stephan said.