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Hiscock Legal Aid Society marks 75 years of representing residents in need

Sandra Kirk was connected to Hiscock Legal Aid through Onondaga County Social Services.
Scott Willis
Sandra Kirk was connected to Hiscock Legal Aid through Onondaga County when she was trying to leave an abusive husband.

A Syracuse-based organization that helps out low income residents with free legal assistance turns 75 this year. Hiscock Legal Aid Society Executive Director Gregory Dewan says they help some 9,000 clients every year. Cases range from court-assigned family or criminal law, to divorce, workplace issues and foreclosures.
Dewan says the legal challenges affect the most fundamental aspects of people’s lives.

"It’s their ability to take care of their children. It's housing, it's keeping a roof over their head… It's being able to live your life safely," Dewan said. "And if you do not have access to those legal services, you're in a system that is difficult to navigate, and you will be largely lost."

That’s how Sandra Kirk says she felt when the courts referred her to Hiscock. She says it was a traumatic time — divorcing an abuser charged with hurting her and her kids.

"I was in heightened survival mode, especially with my children," Kirk said. "I couldn't make rational logical decisions. It took me quite a long time to be able to just kind of reground myself and figure out the right avenue. I mean, I'm not a lawyer. I couldn't have represented myself."

Kirk says being able to spend time talking through issues with her lawyer, and not worry about paying “for every second,” was a huge relief. She praises her attorney for first ensuring that she and her kids would be safe, and then working out the financial details of the divorce.

The Hiscock Legal Aid Society is primarily funded by local governments, and state and federal funds. It was named after Frank Hiscock, an early 20th-century judge whose legacy helped start the organization in 1949.

Natasha Senjanovic teaches radio broadcasting at the Newhouse School while overseeing student journalists at WAER and creating original reporting for the station. She can also be heard hosting All Things Considered some weekday afternoons.