During the summer of 2013, I used my Wellman Hill Grant to intern at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. One of the oldest legal aid organizations in the country, their mission is to “secure justice and resolve fundamental problems for those who are low income and vulnerable by providing high quality legal services and working for systemic solutions.” In fulfilling their mission, Legal Aid not only advocates for justice, but also empowers clients and the surrounding community. With four offices located throughout Northeast Ohio, 45 staffed attorneys and more than 1600 volunteer attorneys practice in areas of consumer rights, domestic violence, education, employment, family law, health, housing, foreclosure, immigration, public benefits, utilities and tax.
For the duration of my internship, I worked at Legal Aid’s largest office in downtown Cleveland’s Warehouse District. I arrived early my first day to meet with Ann Porath, Legal Aid’s Managing Attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) and Intake Unit. She immediately informed me of the department’s responsibilities, which include screening all applications for legal services, client information gathering, and conducting various community outreach programs. Unfortunately, due to eligibility standards set in accordance with the federal poverty guidelines and Legal Aid’s limited resources, more than half of the 15,000-plus petitions for aid received each year are not served. With this understanding, I could not have been more eager to start work.
After a tour and an orientation meeting, I was introduced to numerous attorneys and staff working in Legal Aid’s consumer and family law practice groups, as well as its HEWII (Health, Education, Work, Income, and Immigration) division. Driving home later that day, I could not help but be struck by a sense of profound admiration for those I had met. Over the course of the next eight weeks, my respect for the individuals working at Legal Aid only increased.
Although not enrolled in law school, I was immediately entrusted with a substantial amount of responsibility. I worked on bankruptcy, child support, and pro se divorce cases, all while being in direct contact with clients. Additionally, I attended multiple free brief advice and referral clinics staffed by the Legal Aid Society and attorneys from numerous other Cleveland law firms.
Working for with the clients served by Legal Aid certainly gave me a different perspective on the issues confronted by those falling in lower socioeconomic classes. One of my more memorable experiences occurred while working with an older gentleman on his pro se divorce case. While prohibited from going into specific details due to confidentiality requirements, following the completion and mailing of his paperwork, I arrived the next morning to find a heartfelt voicemail thanking me for the time and effort I devoted to his case. Although small, the voicemail and other experiences were constant reminders of the appreciation clients had for the services provided by Legal Aid.
I believe it takes a special type of individual to work at Legal Aid. The intake specialists, attorneys, and volunteers truly care about securing justice for those who would otherwise be unable to obtain legal services. They make positive differences in the lives of thousands of individuals. After having the experience of working for such an organization, I could not be more thankful to Ms. Hill and the Wellman Hill Selection Committee for providing me with such an opportunity.