A Tulsa paralegal was one of four pro bono Legal Aid volunteers honored during the Oklahoma Bar Association annual meeting.
Roni Lee Clark, a Hall Estill paralegal, was praised for her efforts to assist others by Dwight L. Smith, Legal Services Oklahoma board president.
Others honored were McAlester attorney Pay Layden, David Miley with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and retired Judge Duane Woodliff of Okmulgee County.
Clark’s volunteer work started in 2007, Smith said. Since that time she assisted dozens of Legal Aid clients in preparing estate planning documents and deeds.
She also served as a Guardian Ad Litem appointed by the Tulsa County guardianship judge under a special Legal Aid partnership with the court to assist guardians in filing their annual reports. She handled “three times” as many cases as any other volunteer in that special program.
Karen Langdon, Tulsa’s Pro Bono coordinator, said Clark went to retirement communities or individual homes to meet with clients to sign their end-of-life documents or guardianship reports if they were unable to meet her at her office.
Clark, who has been with Hall Estill since 2001, got involved with Legal Aid in 2007 “because I liked helping people and knowing I can make a difference in their life.”
The work generally involves preparing end-of-life documents, she said. “Many times I have heard people sigh and say, ‘Now I don’t have to worry about that anymore.’”
Clark was surprised by the state recognition, but the first honor from Legal Aid occurred in February when Langdon said she was honored as the volunteer of the month.
“I didn’t know I was getting the latest award,” she said. “It’s nice, and I am humbled to be a recipient.”
Some are concerned that Clark’s work might not be valid because she isn’t an attorney, but those concerns often disappear after being assured that all documents are reviewed by an attorney prior to final signatures. They are told upfront that she cannot give advice on legal issues.
Clark said barriers often come down following the initial client meeting and it is determined what is needed.
“We often share life experiences,” she said. “I just want people to be comfortable with me.”
Clark admitted she didn’t realize that when she answered the call to help Legal Aid that it would provide another opportunity for her to serve others.
Judge Terry Bitting conducted a volunteer training session to give lawyers and paralegals an opportunity to help the court. She was hooked after her first appointment to serve as a guardian ad litem for a 15-year-old client.
Other court appointments followed, and Clark began helping people with real estate planning and end of life documents.
Clark appreciates the law firm’s support that gives her flexibility in her daily work schedule so she can reach out to others who can’t afford a lawyer. She plans to maintain her Legal Aid involvement and help as many people as assigned while at Hall Estill.
Eventually she will retire, but she still wants to be involved with helping others.
Hall Estill co-workers say Clark is one of a kind — someone with a huge heart and unselfish willingness to volunteer time to help those truly needing her.
Miley, assistant general counsel with ODOT, and a group of volunteer attorneys, legal secretaries and Legal Aid staff participate in an outreach clinic providing free legal advice to low-income individuals and senior citizens in Oklahoma City, Smith said. Miley has volunteered for the Third Saturday Legal Clinic for about 15 years and approximately 500 hours during that time.
“Miley is kind and extremely patient with every clinic participant he has helped,” Smith continued. “He spends as much time as needed to allow participants to talk out their situation which often has as much to do with life advice as it does legal advice.”
Layden has volunteered many years to promote equal access to justice in Oklahoma, Smith said. While he volunteered his services to Legal Aid as an attorney, he most recently answered the call from the office to provide legal representation to a young mother involved in a custody battle for her 1-year-old daughter.
Layden later won the case and halted the separation.
Woodliff joined his father, Kirk Woodliff, in private practice in Henryetta after returning from duty with the Army Judge Advocate Corps. He became a special judge, and then he was elected as an associate district judge in 2007.
During that time he established the Okmulgee County Drug Court, the Anna McBride Mental Health Court and Family Drug Treatment Court.
Following his retirement in 2014, Woodliff joined Legal Aid in 2015, working in the Oklahoma City offices two or three days for week and assisting in multiple workshops. He volunteered 265 hours and helped nearly 100 senior citizens with wills, estate plans, guardianships, consumer and other issues.