Legal Aid is Alive and Well

And Cleveland’s Deborah A. Coleman is proof

Published in 2014 Ohio Super Lawyers — January 2014

For a child of the ‘60s, the phenomenon of protest movements made an impression on Deborah A. Coleman.

“I went to law school to become a lawyer so that I could help people solve problems,” she says. “Many of us saw law as an important instrument for achieving a [more just] society and positive change.”

Now onto her 38th year in practice, Coleman continues the pro bono work she has been doing for the majority of her legal career: counseling clients through the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Last summer, Coleman wrapped up four pro bono cases. One involved a woman struggling with her mortgage. “Payment was always due before she got paid at work,” says Coleman. “And she always paid the late fee. But at the level of income she was making, the extra $25 a month was really something that she could have used for other purposes, for example, maybe making more of a mortgage payment or dealing with another personal need.” Coleman put her in touch with an agency to try for a reduced mortgage principal and that could potentially help the woman align her payment schedule.

For her pro bono efforts, the Cleveland attorney—who recently opened a solo practice focused on dispute resolution and professional ethics after years at the firm Hahn Loeser & Parks—was awarded the Ohio State Bar Association’s 2013 John C. and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award.

“I was very surprised,” says Coleman. “I’m sure there are many Ohio lawyers who have devoted more time and made a more significant contribution to legal services than I have. … But I do appreciate the opportunity to speak to Ohio lawyers about the importance of this work.”

“The kind of work that I’ve become involved with is work that legal aid lawyers don’t see often but has a reasonable relationship to what I do every day as a business litigation lawyer,” she says. “Those are the kinds of cases where you can actually accomplish something. That [is] really exciting because you can demonstrate to people who have very tough lives and are very skeptical about the value of the legal system that it’s there for them.”

And Coleman is there for them.

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