LAO helps troops, family members, retirees

| December 5, 2014 | 1 Comment


Gisela Parent
Chief, Legal Assistance
25th Infantry Division


Being in the Army or being a dependent of someone in the Army creates unique challenges.

This fact is particularly true in Hawaii, where Soldiers and spouses are usually separated from their extended families and sometimes leave behind issues that can’t be easily addressed due to distance.

The Army does its best to provide services to ease the transition to a Soldier’s new Pacific home. One of those services is free legal help through the Schofield Barracks Legal Assistance Office, or LAO.

The LAO offers free legal services and advice to all active duty service members and their families and retirees. It provides legal services and advice on a wide variety of civilian legal issues, including, but not limited to, divorce, custody, debt collection, landlord-tenant issues, wills and health care powers of attorney. In addition to its attorney services, the LAO provides powers of attorney and notary services on a walk-in basis.

Unfortunately, LAO attorneys are unable to represent clients in civilian courts. Therefore, some clients will be advised to protect their interest by hiring civilian counsel. However, depending on the complexity of the issues, the LAO attorneys may be able to assist by writing demand letters, making phone calls, researching an issue or taking other actions, as necessary.

The LAO also offers legal advice on military-specific issues, including these:

•Financial Liability appeals.

•General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand rebuttals.

•OER/NCOER appeals.

The LAO understands these issues are time-sensitive and works to ensure all clients are seen and assisted in a timely manner.

Rest assured, you also have confidentiality with the LAO. When a client sits down with an attorney, he forms an attorney-client relationship that includes privilege, meaning everything said in the appointment will be kept confidential. This privilege extends to the paralegals and administrators of the LAO.

To ensure the attorneys are able to prepare for clients, paralegals will request that clients fill out a detailed client intake sheet. Paralegals may also make additional inquiries and ask probing questions to ensure that clients are eligible to be seen, and that they are matched with the best attorney for the issue.

Since confidentiality extends to all the LAO staff, clients are encouraged to be honest and forthcoming, so they can receive the best possible service. No part of a client’s file or consultation will ever be made available to the command or to any other party.

While the LAO will never divulge client information to a command, it often works with commands to create preventative law briefings or other programs to facilitate mission readiness. Whether it’s setting aside a day for a company to draft wills or speaking to a group of Soldiers about consumer issues, the LAO is always happy to assist commands with readiness and morale.

Due to the huge demand for services, the Schofield Barracks Legal Assistance office has implemented policies in order to assist the largest possible number of clients:

Appointments: Appointments may be made in person or over the phone; however, all clients will be asked to show a valid Military Identification Card prior to their appointment. Most appointments are limited to 30 minutes.

In order to maximize the productivity of the appointment, clients are asked to come prepared with any documentation relevant to their case, such as a written lease agreement or vehicle purchase contract. Due to the short appointment time, clients who are more than 10 minutes late are considered no-shows and will be asked to reschedule.

Divorce Brief: All clients seeking advice about divorce or separation must first attend a divorce brief, conducted every Tuesday and Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the LAO office. The brief covers processes specific to Hawaii, but also touches on general divorce law and military-specific issues. No appointment is necessary.

Walk-ins: The LAO offers walk-in appointments every Tuesday and Thursday. With the exception of clients who must first attend the Divorce Brief, all other eligible clients may attempt to get a same-day appointment. We advise that clients come prepared and arrive early to secure a spot on the calendar.

Limitations: Unfortunately, the LAO is unable to assist with certain areas of the law, including criminal law issues, employment law and advice regarding private business activities. There may also be limitations imposed according to the nature of the service sought or the types of services necessary to resolve the issue.

In some cases, clients will be advised that their best course of action is to hire civilian counsel.

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Category: News, Staff Judge Advocate (SJA)

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