By Kristopher N. Kazmierczak, Katz Korin Cunningham
What you’ll find unique about Kevin Tyra’s contribution to pro bono work in our community is that his commitment is not restricted to the time he invests providing services, but more remarkably that he took the initiative to develop a new outlet for the provision of pro bono legal services when he co-founded the Ozanam Free Legal Clinic.
It should come as no surprise that one contributing factor to Kevin’s core principle to assist others is strongly founded upon his years of experience serving our country in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. Kevin’s view of our profession serves as another spring-board for such initiative. Although surely not the focus of our discussion, Kevin mentioned that he views the legal profession as a “means to serve” versus a platform for personal gain – a mission well worth re-emphasizing.
The genesis of the Ozanam Legal Clinic resulted from Kevin’s ingenuity and willingness to do more to give back to society in a meaningful way. Kevin’s dream originated from his professional experiences, which demonstrated a gap in access to critical legal needs existed in the community, despite all of the on-going efforts by so many. It was Kevin’s next step – to act on his impulses to fill that gap – that is truly noteworthy and sets him apart.
In 2003, Kevin volunteered in other capacities with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Indianapolis Archdiocesan Council, Inc., a 501(c)(3) Catholic lay charity. Kevin observed that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul operated a food pantry, a warehouse to collect and distribute food and clothing items and a medical clinic. While volunteering at the warehouse, Kevin was inspired to develop the basic framework behind a new legal clinic program. He thought a legal clinic would enhance the social services, food, medical care and clothing already provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Knowing that people in need were drawn to the facility for other social services, the option of offering a legal clinic was a logical fit to Kevin. Shortly after Kevin was inspired by his thought, he made a proposal to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul about his idea to start a free legal clinic and he outlined its basic operations. Kevin even gave the clinic its name after Frederick Ozanam, a nineteenth-century Paris lawyer who founded the Society.
The legal clinic serves about 100 families/clients per year. It is self-sustaining and does not receive financial support, with the exception of the use of the facility and some equipment. The individuals who use the legal clinic are barely meeting their daily basic needs. Many of the people who use the clinic absolutely rely on aid both financially and for food. Kevin reports that the most needed legal representation falls in the areas of guardianships, family law, probate, custody, support, visitation and expungement. There are about six lawyers, including Kevin, who volunteer their time for appointments, which are set for Tuesday mornings.
Kevin shared that he finds that the legal clinic platform is a very effective way to deliver pro bono legal services. Kevin describes that structure and the ability to collaborate with other attorneys are important key factors for a successful pro bono outreach program. The legal clinic is operated much like any other firm with appointments scheduled ahead of time to make sure an attorney is available, and face-to-face meetings to hash out the issues in a personal way. The pro bono lawyer then undertakes direct representation in the event that a client engages the clinic for assistance.
Kevin explains that the experience is enhanced by making the interaction as similar as possible to hiring a private lawyer. This is why having an office location, pre-determined meeting times and dedicated volunteer lawyers who provide direct representation from start to finish is so important. He believes keeping these considerations in mind helps the lawyer to be able to schedule and provide his or her time, the client to feel comfortable and to ensure that the engagement remains professional.
Kevin’s efforts to come up with a new avenue to deliver pro bono services exemplifies the need for lawyers to continue to be creative and inventive and to press for delivering pro bono services in a better fashion. By the way, Kevin, who continues to serve as the Director of the Ozanam Free Legal Clinic, tells me that the legal clinic is always in need of additional volunteers. If you are interested please reach out to him for more details.
During one of our conversations, Kevin shared some of his favorite words to live by: “You can learn everything you need to know about a person by watching how they treat their spouse, employees and anyone who can’t do anything for them.” He has practiced more than 30 years (many of those with his wife Jan – see previous sentence) in the areas of insurance defense and coverage and general civil litigation and is currently the principal of the Tyra Law Firm PC.
The pro bono committee sincerely appreciates the efforts of Kevin and so many other attorneys in the Indianapolis bar who give their time, talent and financial donations to provide legal services to those of limited financial means in our community.
The objective of this series is to acknowledge excellent pro bono efforts by members of the IndyBar and to inspire others. If you desire to be added to the growing list of lawyers willing to assist others on a pro bono basis, please contact Arnetta Scruggs at the IndyBar at firstname.lastname@example.org.•
Kris Kazmierczak is a member of the Indianapolis Bar Association Pro Bono Committee and a shareholder of Katz Korin Cunningham, PC, where he practices in the areas of business, contract and employment counseling and litigation.