With reductions in staff funding and an increasing number of clients who are eligible for Legal Aid services, LASC simply cannot meet this need alone.
Please see the individual pages for more information on how to get involved by one or more of the following:
Accepting a case through one of our Referral Projects such as the Volunteer Resource Center;
Attending a Brief Advice and Referral clinic;
Assisting clients at a Brief Service Clinic; or
Volunteering part-time with one of our In-house Teams.
LASC offers several benefits to its volunteers:
CLE Credit for your volunteer hours (starting 1/1/2014)
UPCOMING TRAININGS - FREE TO CURRENT VOLUNTEERS:
Attorneys who handle pro bono case referrals or who provide legal advice to pro bono clients must be active and in good standing with the Ohio Supreme Court. We have additional opportunities for corporate counsel, law students, paralegals, and other community members.
Thank you for your interest in contributing to the work of The Legal Aid Society of Columbus!
Each year, we create a Private Attorney Involvement Plan. Our pro bono projects are crafted to allow volunteers to provide services to our low-income clients in a manner that is compatible with the volunteer's available time commitment, his or her substantive areas of legal practice, and the needs of the local community. If you, local bar association, or courts have an interest in volunteering but do not see an opportunity described in the enclosed plan that meets your interests, time, or needs, let us know.
You do not need to practice law, have a paralegal certificate, or attend law school to be an integral part of The Legal Aid Society of Columbus. Kent Hiebel proves this point.
Kent applied to volunteer with LASC as he was finishing up his M.A. in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After receiving his undergraduate degree from American University and spending time as a Teach for America Americorps member, Kent had decided to attend law school but wanted more exposure to public interest law. With Kent’s background in Communications and his plans to live near Columbus during the summer, LASC enthusiastically welcomed him as a Pro Bono Marketing Intern.
During his time with LASC, Kent has developed client success stories, drafted pro bono attorney spotlights, and compiled pro bono e-newsletters. He has organized the attorney database and also streamlined communications mechanisms. Mid-way through the summer, Kent took the initiative to research and develop a marketing plan for LASC’s pro bono efforts, conducting widespread research and interviews to assess our current strengths and challenges.
In a few short weeks, Kent will start his next chapter as a law student at Columbia law school in NYC, where he will surely excel and flourish as he masters yet another set of skills. In exchange for his hard work at LASC, Kent came away with an important lesson: “I learned it was possible to incorporate pro bono work regardless of which sector of the legal field I go into.” It’s a message we hope many other future and current law students can learn early on in their careers—that volunteering their time and legal skills is an important part of this profession.
As Kent and the thirty other summer volunteers prepare to return to school, LASC is anxious to recruit other students who are willing to volunteer a few hours per week with our program. Although a legal education can be helpful for many of these positions, there are a wide variety of opportunities that require no legal background. In fact, drawing upon skill sets from other professions and fields has had a tremendously positive impact on our program.
In the summer of 2013, attorney Dean Reinhard reached out to LASC expressing his desire to help. As a private practitioner with his own firm, Dean was anxious to volunteer and receive training on poverty law topics. Dean started with the LASC bankruptcy pro bono project and concurrently received on-the-job training with the LASC domestic relations team. A few months later, a perfect opportunity presented itself to utilize Dean’s background and skills: LASC was asked to organize a pro bono brief advice clinic at the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center. A former JAG officer, Dean enthusiastically agreed to staff the clinic and committed to an aggressive schedule so that the clinic could be offered on a weekly basis.
The LASC VA clinic kicked off in August, 2013, and since its inception, more than 300 veterans have received service, including legal information, brief advice, referral to appropriate entities or veteran programs, and extended service.
Dean’s dogged commitment has been the largest contributing factor to the clinic’s success. Fellow volunteer and attorney William Ballam commented: “Dean goes above and beyond. When he hears a story that doesn’t sound right, he works to find out what the real issue is and how he can help.”
Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator Beatrice Bartram agrees: “He is a wonderful person to work with.” Dean’s skills also spread to the next generation of lawyers: volunteer law student Elizabeth Davenport, who assists with clinic intake, notes: “Dean is caring and compassionate with all of the clients. He has taught me how to treat clients with patience and respect.”
Dean receives a great deal of satisfaction working with indigent clients: “It is obvious we are helping when someone thanks us for the littlest thing. You can make someone’s day brighter simply by letting them tell their story.”
Dean’s advice to attorneys who are hesitant to volunteer is simple: “Try it. Experiment. Don’t overthink it. There is Legal Aid training and support available to you, and the clients are very thankful.”
Dean’s commitment to the VA clinic and the clients served by LASC is unparalleled, and the spirit of volunteerism is contagious as more attorneys have been signing on to volunteer.
VOLUNTEERS EXPAND STAFF CAPACITY DURING SUMMER
The loss of staff experienced by LASC due to reduced funding during the past six years has had a great impact on our ability to serve low-income clients, but we do not do this work alone. Unquestionably, pro bono attorneys and paralegals play an important role. Equally as critical are our onsite volunteers who work shifts at our office.
Today, we wish to focus on the amazing fact that this summer, we are hosting more than 50 volunteers onsite at Legal Aid. Volunteers range from full-time summer law clerks to retired attorneys who volunteer throughout the year and spend three-hour shifts in the Volunteer Resource Center interviewing clients and referring cases to pro bono counsel. We also engage retired and active paralegals, college students, licensed attorneys seeking work or law grads awaiting bar results. We think this is a tremendous figure and are proud of this extraordinary level of commitment. The influx of summer help enables our attorneys to handle more cases and serve more clients in need. Thank you, volunteers!
Pro Bono work offers new attorneys experience and the opportunity to make a tangible difference in client lives.
Hours after his swearing-in ceremony on November 4, 2013, Bricker & Eckler associate Dylan Borchers appeared in Bellefontaine Municipal Court. This was anything but a slam dunk case: Dylan was representing a homeless woman fighting to have her criminal record sealed.
The client, whom we will call “Stephanie” for the purpose of sharing her story publicly, had been wrongfully named as a criminal defendant in 2010 when a warrant was issued because the person who was arrested gave her name. Once the police realized the wrongful identity, the warrant was dismissed. Several years passed without incident when the warrant suddenly appeared on Stephanie’s criminal record. Her employer, having conducted a random criminal records search, saw that she had a record and fired her. After that point, she struggled to obtain employment but continued to be dismissed from various part-time positions because of her “criminal” background. Responsible for four small children and unable to find permanent work, Stephanie temporarily sought shelter at the YWCA Family Center. While there, she met Dylan at a brief advice legal clinic co-sponsored by the YWCA and LASC. Recognizing the unfairness of Stephanie’s predicament and her struggle for stability, Dylan agreed to assist her with sealing her record.
With assistance from Dylan, Stephanie completed and filed an expungement affidavit, but the City prosecutor objected to the sealing of her record. Dylan researched expungement cases and amassed a number of good precedents in her favor. When the prosecutor sought proof of Stephanie’s “rehabilitation”, Dylan interviewed several character witnesses at their homes and prepared their sworn statements.
At the hearing, Dylan argued both in chambers and on the record that the expungement should be granted. In addition to the facts argued from the police arrest records and the law, he presented the statements of the character witnesses. Ultimately he successfully convinced the court that the expungement should be granted.
Stephanie was ecstatic. This result meant that she could accept a new position that had been contingent on the expungement and that her ability to secure future employment would not be met with the same challenges. Moreover, with the new job, Stephanie was able to transition her family out of homelessness.
Dylan’s story is one of many that show how enthusiastic and empathetic new lawyers can have a great impact on the lives of low-income families. He is fortunate to have the support of a law firm that places a strong emphasis on volunteerism, but his story should resonate with anyone who feels that lack of experience impedes pro bono participation. In fact, the reality is that pro bono work can offer new advocates the ability to litigate on behalf of clients with debilitating legal issues with the training, support, and malpractice coverage of LASC. We hope Dylan’s story will serve as an inspiration to others who may be hesitant to reach out.
LASC BIDS FAREWELL TO A LONGSTANDING AND SUCCESSFUL CLINIC
On Monday, March 10th, the brief advice clinic at Christian Assembly Church and Threshold Community Center will hold its final clinic.
For five years, low-income people in the Northland area had access to volunteer attorneys every second Monday evening of the month. Clinic Coordinator Ellen Queen initiated the clinic after being approached by She’lia Bolding from the Columbus Bar Association and attending an orientation conducted by Drew Campbell and Anthony Sharret. Ellen reflects on her motivation: “I loved the concept of providing legal resources to those who couldn’t afford them. Through no fault of their own, people find themselves in the need of an advocate, someone who can go to bat for them or provide them with the tools and knowledge they need to resolve their dilemmas.” In Ellen’s case, her faith also played a large role: “As Christians, we are called to speak up for justice and assist those whose rights are being violated. As a church, we were looking for ways to benefit our community and build bridges of friendship.”
Ellen has run the clinic with efficiency, kindness and professionalism—organizing volunteers to help with set-up and tear-down, security, refreshments, and intake. With sponsorship from the Columbus Bar Association and Legal Aid Society of Columbus, the clinic served indigent people on the brink of crisis: women facing domestic violence, families fearful of imminent homelessness, and elderly individuals immobilized by creditor harassment. When they arrived at the site, clients were met with a warm greeting from intake volunteers, a friendly conversation while they waited, and a snack or toys for their children.
It is impossible to adequately recognize everyone who played a role in making this clinic a success, but LASC wishes to thank Diana Severance for her intake assistance and church volunteers Gina Law, Kelley McGruder, Libby Streamer, and Sharon Thrower. Pro Bono attorneys included, but were certainly not limited to, Andrew Zamensky, Ryan Welker, Nita Hanson, Todd Fichtenberg, Sally and David Bloomfield, Narcus Tsiliacos, Dean Reinhard, Paul Bryson, Daniel Skinner, Joel Campbell, Brandon Sewell, and Rick Piatt. Many others contributed by recruiting volunteers, attending a clinic or accepting a pro bono case referred by the clinic, but two in particular should be mentioned: Richard Parsons and Ray Pantle have volunteered since the clinic’s inception and both experienced the “honor” of being the lone attorney on a given evening. On one infamous night, Ray met with 18 clients…unwilling to turn anyone away who had arrived with the hope of having his or her questions answered.
The Northland clinic was a success because of the commitment of volunteers. Nearly 450 clients were served because of the commitment of volunteers. And the community will undoubtedly feel a sense of loss when the doors close on Monday the 10th.