NORTHWEST PHILADELPHIA >> Many Northwest Philadelphia residents may find they have a need for legal assistance in 2017. Yet many will find that they face a quandary. On one hand, they cannot afford to pay for an attorney because they are living paycheck to paycheck with a stagnating wage. Conversely, they cannot qualify for legal assistance because their individual or family income puts that out of reach because they earn too much.
Know that help is on the way. Whether one’s issue is dealing with the Internal Revenue Service or needing to help an elder remain with the family rather than selling off their assets to go into a convalescent institution, there are resources. This is so even if one wants to know one’s right in case one wants to represent themselves in the courts or fill out legal documents.
Attorney Angela Dean is now helping individuals and nonprofits with tax issues at sliding and affordable rates. The West Oak Lane native, who now resides in Elkins Park, has a law degree from Villanova University with a master’s in taxation law. She formerly was a bankruptcy lawyer and worked as an employee benefits attorney.
“I am willing to work with clients at an affordable rate,” Dean said. “Of course, I work for a living so I cannot work for free. I am doing lower rates because I have always represented the underdog. I really want to help people navigate the system.”
To this end, she has joined forces with Amorette Hinds of Innovative Capital Management. She brings to the table the financial accounting information. The two are also looking for other tax accountants to join them.
“Sometimes dealing with the IRS can be complex, but we can help people at all income levels to navigate the process from the beginning to appeals,” she said.
Then there is Mary Chicorelli, founder of Equal Access Legal. She has assisted many clients from Northwest Philadelphia through the nonprofit agency, which is operated specifically to help people who fall in the gap between the low income, who qualify for assistance from agencies like Community Legal Services, and those who cannot afford a top-tier law firm. During this era, new legal models are emerging as legal nonprofits, according to Chicorelli.
“This is a new type of justice based on the sustainable business model,” Chicorelli said. “Our model is not about fighting for grant dollars. This is because we have a very low overhead. We do charge on a sliding scale based on income and family size. We work with people above the poverty level. There’s a need to have legal services, workshops and advice that [are] affordable.”
Among those who have referred clients to Chicorelli is the Rev. Keith Collins, pastor of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer. In fact, after seeing Chicorelli in operation, he was inspired to start having legal workshops at his church. They are currently expanding that with a legal library with book donations from local attorneys. Eventually, they will operate a sustainable law nonprofit as well.
“I am going to be volunteering with Pastor Collin’s church [doing legal workshops] because I believe that we need ways for people to be able to access legal services,” Chicorelli said.
Collins said her organization was helpful to a church member who was being forced into a nursing home and her assets were going to be diverted away from the family. She was able to effectively fight to allow the family to care for their aging relative and keep the family estate.
“Many members expressed their legal concerns as the new administration comes in,” Collins said. “That is why we hope to have this community legal ministry up and running by the spring. We have already been meeting and putting things in place. It’s important that the church members and others understand things like guardianship. I was just impressed with how Mary Chicorelli handled the guardianship and immigration cases through a nonprofit. We want to replicate some of what she is doing.”