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Chicago Lawyer Takes Activism In His Own Hands To Help Tenants

Fine print in contracts is not being read enough. It could be that legalese is too dry to comprehend. Maybe people don't care until they face their own legal issues. The font size and the length of contracts certainly don't help. According to Forbes, only .11 percent of people read fine print online. If the fine print requires clicking to a second screen, the number nosedives to .07 percent.

(Photo Courtesy of Melvin Sims)

Apparently, avoiding fine print in paper rental agreements is no different. The Fiscal Times and U.S. News count this as one of the top mistakes for renters. Without knowing one's legal rights, retaining a lawyer becomes a matter of residence or no residence.

"I was representing a friend in eviction court. I saw minorities in the courthouse being taken advantage of by attorneys, not informed of their rights, tricked into signing orders of possessions of their homes, and signing off on these big money judgments without ever knowing or having been told that there was another path that they could take," said Melvin Sims, the owner and founding partner of the Tenants Rights Group LLC.

"[That day] I initially gave away legal services to people who were in eviction court," Sims said.

Whether other lawyers choose to take on an activist role or work in a more corporate environment, Sims believes that there is a "maturation process" that happens during law school. While he wholeheartedly agrees with the seven-year term it takes to complete undergraduate and law school, he wants law school students to do one thing differently: get to court.

"Too many attorneys fresh out of law school sit on document review projects for years and never see the inside of a courtroom. Even transactional lawyers should at least have the basics inside a courtroom."

Sims, an army veteran, holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Amherst College and a Juris Doctor from Howard University. His original legal focus was labor and employment. After seeing the way tenants were treated, he changed his tune and started his own firm in November 2012.

"In the practice of law, you will be faced with the choice of being a missionary or a mercenary. [I wanted to be] a social engineer, being able to help families make a positive difference in the community and not to merely enrich myself."

Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a professional journalist who has work featured in AXS, Yahoo!, Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune. She's been an Examiner since 2009 and currently writes about 10 categories on

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