Law Firms

Lawyer works and sleeps in shack to raise money for her nonprofit law firm

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Campout for Justice Detroit 2017 GoFundMe page.

A Detroit lawyer who founded a nonprofit law firm to help the poor is working and sleeping in a makeshift shack until she raises at least $18,500 on a GoFundMe page, with the aim of helping more clients.

Lawyer Lisa Walinske has a home, but she appears to be homeless during the “campout for justice,” the Detroit Free Press reports. A video by the newspaper is here.

“We need money to pay a staff person to coordinate things, so we can help more people,” Walinske tells the newspaper. “We want to increase our outreach efforts, and we also need to pay the heating bills for several of our community properties where we’re housing people with no place to stay.”

Walinske had “a conventional career in suburban Detroit” as a partner in a well-established law firm before she founded her own firm, called ReDetroit East Community Law Center. Two partners are working with her.

Clients’ fees are based on a sliding scale. The law firm also takes on inmate cases, receiving fees from county governments of about $350 to $400 per case. “So we lose money on each case,” Walinske said. “We spend more than that on gas and postage.”

Walinske hopes eventually to receive $30,000 in donations. Another aim, she said, is “to get people thinking about what it means to be poor, and outside right now.”

As of Monday morning, Walinske has raised more than $11,000. She answered the ABA Journal’s questions by email Sunday evening. She said:

“It truly has been an amazing 20 days. While I came out here in hopes of finding funding for our community justice/education initiative, we have found even more people in need of the hope that justice can provide. Over the last three years we have said ‘no’ to many cases for lack of resources. Our clients, in large part lack hope…feel forgotten … and wonder if their voices will ever be heard. I hate being financially unable to help people.

“It may seem crazy to pitch a tent along Jefferson Avenue in Detroit as winter approaches, but to me—with what we see of injustice on a daily basis—it seemed that to do nothing was even more crazy.

“Yes it’s been cold. I’ve been so blessed by community support out here that people bring me meals, snacks, a wood-burning stove, nonelectric gas heaters, wood, blankets, and sleeping bags. The amazing and frequent random acts of kindness of many strangers has restored my faith in the good that lives in all of us. The moments of love from strangers is enough to overcome those cold, cold, cold hours in the middle of the night.

“I plan to go home when we hit our initial funding goal of $18,500. We have already started saying yes to new cases that we have encountered while out here. It feels good to be in the business of saying ‘yes’ clients in need again! And saying ‘yes’ to fighting systemic injustices is what ReDetroit East NPO, Inc.”

Last updated Dec. 11 to include Walinske’s comments and a new fundraising total.

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