LASC VOLUNTEER AND PRO BONO OPPORTUNITIES
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 Volunteer Resource Center (VRC);
- Attending a Brief Advice or Brief Service Clinic; or
- Volunteering part-time at LASC.
Attorneys interested in handling cases or providing pro bono legal advice must be active and in good standing with the Supreme Court of Ohio. We have additional opportunities for corporate counsel, law students, paralegals, and other community members.
LASC offers several benefits to its volunteers:
- Primary Malpractice Coverage
- Mentors - We pair you with staff attorneys as mentors and can also assist with obtaining pro bono mentors.
- CLE Credit for your volunteer hours (for pro bono hours starting 1/1/2014) - Attorneys can now receive CLE credit for their pro bono hours donated through LASC. Six hours of volunteering equate to one hour of CLE, and attorneys can obtain up to six hours of CLE credit.
- Free Training (for committed or current volunteers) - We offer free, live CLEs on poverty law topics as well as electronic versions of previous trainings. See below for upcoming CLEs.
Our 2014 Bankruptcy report is here! Take a look at the great work being done by our local bankruptcy practitioners!
UPCOMING TRAININGS - FREE TO CURRENT VOLUNTEERS:
MARCH VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT
This month, LASC applauds Anna Sanyal, who has remained true to this objective since joining our pro bono program in 2013. A 2012 Capital Law Graduate, Anna works in compliance at JP Morgan Chase and regularly volunteers with brief advice clinics at the YWCA Family Center and Hilltop Run the Race Club.
As a first generation Indian American, Anna was raised in an immigrant family that espoused the Horatio Alger “bootstraps” worldview based on the core premise that “in this country, anything is possible through hard work, grit, and determination.” Despite this focus on individual attainment, Anna’s desire to give back to her community can be traced back to one life-altering experience: “At my first job after college, I took a ‘Bridges out of Poverty’ course, which single-handedly changed my worldview forever. I realized that despite being a hard worker, without the proper education, guidance, and resources, it is hard to break the cycle of generational poverty. More importantly, I learned that we all need to support each other during times of need in order to have a vibrant and successful community.”
Anna has witnessed the impact that the brief advice clinics have on the lives of people in poverty: “I honestly believe that [the advice] empowers them. Often, low-income clients feel a little betrayed by the community they live in and the apparent lack of resources. As many in this line of work know, there is often a lack of knowledge about social support programs amongst the very population they seek to serve. As a result, LASC’s programs perform the very important role of bridging the gap between the available resources and funneling them to the appropriate people.”
Although tacking on a couple hours to the end of a rough work day is not easy, Anna acknowledges that the pro bono work gives her perspective. She explains, “When I show up at a legal clinic, I may have had a terrible day. For example, recently, during a clinic night, I had a flat tire, a rotator cuff injury, and a migraine from working a very long day. I did not want to be there. But slowly, as I started interviewing my clients and discussing potential solutions with them, all these other nagging issues in my life simply disappeared. I was just glad to be there and to have resources that I could share so that my clients could develop positive outcomes of their own.”
To ensure she doesn't overwhelm herself, Anna holds herself to a reasonable expectation: “I make a realistic time commitment that I can actually honor. For me, that is usually one or two nights a month.” And don’t worry: pro bono has not overtaken her personal life. In fact, she still finds time to “cook, practice yoga, plan elaborate vacations (that may or may not happen), write Yelp! reviews, and watch a lot of bad TV.”
Anna is sensitive to the concerns shared by many attorneys who feel they do not have the requisite poverty law experience, but she encourages them nonetheless. “The issues that the clients bring forward in the legal clinics are often easy to parse through with simple research conducted on site during the interview. Most of us bring our laptops and iPads to the clinics and free WiFi is available. If you went to law school, you’re already a pro at research!” She also encourages hesitant attorneys to attend LASC’s free CLEs or shadow more “seasoned” volunteers.
Anna’s efforts have brought peace of mind, practical legal education, and empowerment to the low-income and homeless clients she serves, but she notes that volunteering has had a positive impact on her as well: “My pro bono experience makes me grateful for what I do have (a home, a supportive partner, an ornery cat, amazing friends, and a great education) and the fact that I can share some of my good luck with others.”
LASC is fortunate to partner with many new attorneys like Anna. In 2014, 99 new attorneys volunteered, donating more than 2800 hours to our program.
FEBRUARY VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT
Sondra and Paul Bryson of Bryson Legal, LLC are proof that married couples can live and work together. Although this alone should be touted as a feat, they are spotlighted today because of their outstanding commitment to the clients served by the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC). Their firm, which focuses on bankruptcy, estate planning, dispute resolution, and small business—serves as an excellent example of how small firm practitioners can use the pro bono and reduced fee opportunities afforded by LASC to gain skills and develop professionally.
A bankruptcy attorney who was drawn to the law as a helping profession, Sondra joined the Chapter 7 Pro Bono Project after attending a CBA Bankruptcy committee presentation by Judge John Hoffman and LASC's Melissa Linville. After a few months, she joined the Legal Aid Reduced Fee Referral Project (LARP), which sends out reduced fee Chapter 7 and uncontested divorce cases. LARP's regular referrals and modest fees can help small firm or solo practitioners as they build their practices. "It is not as difficult as it might seem to take on pro bono," she acknowledges. "Legal Aid really helps to make sure the cases are done in an efficient manner. We don't have a staff so when I first started, I was worried that I couldn't maintain the practice and volunteer." Sondra's experience should serve as a comfort to those newer attorneys who share this concern: "I filed six pro bono bankruptcies last year, and we were still able to run the office. It's doable."
Raised in the Northland neighborhood, Paul was initially drawn to pro bono because it gave him the opportunity to give back to his community, but his motivations broadened as his career evolved. Before entering the private practice with Sondra, Paul worked for a common pleas judge and then in-house. His initial participation in the Northland brief advice clinic helped him hone his client interviewing skills. Soon Paul expanded his involvement by joining two other LASC programs: the Volunteer Resource Center (VRC) housing project, which refers pro bono eviction cases, and the LARP Domestic project. The VRC eviction cases gave him court experience, and the reduced fee divorce referrals introduced him to a new substantive area.
Paul and Sondra's pro bono experiences reveal how invested non-paying clients can be when certain critical needs are at stake. Paul reflects that the pro bono clients are actually the most thankful. He met one particularly grateful client during an LASC brief advice clinic. The client was struggling with a landlord who had failed to maintain her rental housing or return her security deposit. Paul agreed to represent her in a small claims case she had filed pro se. After the representation, he received a beautiful thank you card. "She was an immigrant, and our legal system was very different than what she was used to. The assistance made her feel like she could have faith in the system." Sondra agrees that the bankruptcy pro bono work is equally fulfilling: "It is so great to see how you can impact someone's life—whether it's stopping a wage garnishment or reinstating someone's utilities during a brutally cold week."
LASC pro bono projects also offer flexibility and other non-tangible benefits to volunteers: "Pick a brief advice clinic that is convenient for you and try it out," Paul recommends. "You are not bound to it forever. One project may not be for you, but there is enough out there that you can find something that fits for you." Pro bono also offers attorneys a fun way to interact with others from different practice or geographic areas. Paul has enjoyed the opportunity to meet others with a shared interest, "but it doesn't feel like a networking event."
Despite the demands of parenthood and sustaining a practice, Sondra and Paul collectively donated nearly fifty hours of pro bono time to LASC in 2014. Thank you, Bryson Legal!
January Volunteer Spotlight
Attorney Jason Beehler came into doing volunteer Pro Bono work quite naturally. Helping others, frankly, is in his blood. His mother has worked as a Public Defender for 30 years and his father, a volunteer woodworker, regularly makes toys for children who cannot afford them. Given these role models that he had while growing up, Jason's current interest and Pro Bono involvement with the VRC housing project is not much of a surprise.
Jason grew up in Indianapolis and completed his undergraduate studies at Ohio Wesleyan University with a B.A. in English. He worked for six years at the Greater Columbus Arts Council, and then enrolled in The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2006. After graduating in 2009, Jason began working at Chester, Willcox and Saxbe. A colleague there encouraged him to work on a Pro Bono landlord tenant case, and ever since then he has been volunteering his time to help others who cannot afford an attorney.
Currently an associate with Kegler, Brown Hill + Ritter who specializes in commercial and civil litigation, Jason takes advantage of the firm's policy that allows a certain number of Pro Bono hours to go towards his billable hour requirement. Despite this generous firm policy, Jason states "I would do it even if [Kegler] didn't credit the hours. I learned early in my practice that you have to make time for the things that are important to you as a lawyer and a person." He chose to continue working with LASC's VRC housing project, which finds pro bono counsel for tenants facing eviction in Franklin County.
Jason has had several memorable clients with housing issues for which he was able to assist. One client was evicted for violating her complex's pet policy. Although the client removed the animals as soon as the landlord asked, they filed an eviction against her anyway. "She really didn't want to leave her apartment," Jason said. "Her grandkids lived with her, and it was the first time they were doing well in school, so she didn't want to move them. We were successful in defeating the eviction, and [the client] told me several times that it was the first time she felt like somebody was willing to fight for her."
Jason is thankful that he was able to make a difference for that client, stating "it is extremely rewarding and I felt like I had helped someone who would otherwise be left in an unpredictable situation."
Why does Jason do what he does? He wants to level the playing field and ensure fairness is provided for all people in the legal process. He says "it's scary to be a tenant up against a landlord with a lawyer. I hope I give clients the comfort of knowing someone is on their side."
Jason's commitment to volunteer work with the VRC at Legal Aid is greatly appreciated by his family, community, fellow attorneys, but most importantly, the clients in need whom he so altruistically serves.