ON ‘A MISSION’

Southside Community Law Center
helps families navigate legal issues

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Hearing about a college student’s run-in with the law was the impetus for what Ruby Seymour-Barr now calls “a mission.” 

Before getting to the success that Seymour-Barr now enjoys,  she endured a career change. Then, she had to overcome a slow start in providing “low bono” legal service through a non-profit practice.

These days, Southside Community Law Center is booming with business, though. Its offices were recently relocated from South Monroe to downtown in the Florida Press Center building on College Ave.

“It’s just interesting how this all came together,” Seymour-Barr said. 

Southside Community Law Center has become a sort of family law central. It’s where individuals take mediation cases, landlord-tenant disputes, probate and divorce cases.

There is a slogan “Everyday lawyers for everyday people with everyday issues” around the office. That puts into focus what SCLC is about, Seymour-Barr said.

 The line to get SCLC services is a long one. Its price structure is one of the main reasons that the non-profit law firm finds itself with a lengthy list of clients. 

SCLC limits it services to people who can’t afford high-priced lawyers, but make too much to qualify for free legal aid. 

As much as Seymour-Barr positioned SCLC to help those in the middle of the salary scale, they weren’t coming at first. Some of the early clients were a mother who was seeking legal counsel for her son to prepare him for a meeting with law enforcement officers. Another of her first cases was assisting a nephew who wanted to dispute a traffic ticket.

Growth was gradual before cases started to mount following a conversation at a seminar where Seymour-Barr was networking with a staffer from Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee in early 2017.

Within seven months after that faithful meeting, SCLC began reaching overload.

That December, Seymour-Barr worked until Christmas Eve.

 A devout Christian, Seymour-Barr makes resolution of family disputes a priority. She has learned over the years that divorce cases are never easily settled.

“I’ve done so many of these cases so I know partners are not going to agree so just let the judge go on and make the decision,” she said. 

Then, there are those cases that involve children born out of wedlock. It’s a trend that she’s found took some time getting used to.

“When you look at the family dynamics, now nobody gets married, but they’re all having children,” Seymour-Barr said. “A few years ago, you saw very little of that.”

Finding out about a college student’s entanglement with the law turned out to be the impetus for creating the SCLC. Seymour-Barr recalled finding out that a relative’s grandchild who was an honor student at FAMU had gotten into trouble. Expectations were high for the student, who was first in her family to attend college.

 But violation of a court order resulted in the student being locked up for 30 days. 

 “It changed her life for the worst,” said Seymour-Barr who didn’t hear about the 2015 case until it was too late. 

However, it led to what she now calls “a divine vision.”

Seymour-Barr first came to Tallahassee in 1995 and she held down government jobs as an attorney. Six years later, she and her husband opened Capital City Preparatory School. They operated the school until 2010, when they returned back home to South Florida.

Seymour-Barr returned to her private practice for six years. Her family later moved back to Tallahassee, with hopes of retiring. That idea didn’t last long, as efforts were soon underway to start up SCLC.

At about the time that Seymour-Barr was starting up SCLC she ran into Lasha Williams-Potts, a young attorney who figured she could learn just by being around. Eventually she became a mentee of Seymour-Barr.

These days she is a contracted consultant for SCLC, assisting with drafting documents and doing policy work. What SCLC is doing for folks in the mid-range pay scale is “a service that intersects all walks of life because there are so many people that fall in that category,” Williams-Potts said.

Some clients say having SCLC handle their cases is like having a family member do it. That is a testament to the relationships that Seymour-Barr establish early with clients, said Williams-Potts.

“She has that motherly approach,” she said. “Whether or not you want her in your business, she will make it her business to get in your business.”

But not in an invasive way.

“You’ll know that she means well and she cares about you and your situation,” Williams-Potts said. “She has a genuine desire to help and that sincerity is heart-felt by all of the clients that walk through the door because she first wants to know how you are doing. How do you feel about what you’re going through.”

For most clients, paralegal Felicia Brown is the first point of contact. She’s been with SCLC for nearly two years. 

Brown stays abreast of each client’s case and sits in on consultation conferences whenever possible. She has good reason for doing so, said Brown, whose contact with clients continues until their cases are resolved.

“I just try to reassure them for the most part,” she said.

Quentance Jackson and Dwayne Frazier are two of the clients who Brown has become familiar with. Both have similar divorce cases involving children that have played out differently.

Frazier’s case has been going on since 2017. Child custody is one of the main sticking points in reaching a settlement with his wife.

He credits Seymour-Barr for helping him maintain his composure while the case plays out.

“Mrs. Barr is a very educated lawyer,” Frazier said. “I’ve just been listening to what she says and she has been going about the process and telling me how it works with the court,” Frazier said. “Sometimes divorces can get nasty.

“It can get malicious (but) the advice that Mrs. Barr has given me was always from the perspective of someone with experience.”

Jackson, who has custody of his 5-year-old daughter, said he was unsure about how his case would play out before Seymour-Barr consoled him in their first meeting. She took over communication with the attorney representing Jackson’s ex-wife and began preparing him to stay even keeled while the case went on.

“There was just a lot of stuff I just didn’t understand,” he said. “She just told me don’t worry about it.”

 


Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /data/11/0/112/52/764704/user/782211/htdocs/site/wp-content/themes/dialy-theme/includes/single/post-info.php on line 4