1 Haley A. Schwartz, Esq. Director, Cancer Legal Initiative & Breast Cancer Legal Project Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
2 Goals of our discussion: Brief background about the Atlanta Legal Aid Society Inspire and encourage you to do pro bono Provide an understanding of why it is necessary to do pro bono in light of the current dearth of resources available to the most vulnerable and underserved among us. Distinguishing pro bono from community service Highlight existing pro bono projects that utilize paralegals Ethical considerations for paralegals when engaging in pro bono service Opportunity for Q & A
3 Private, non-profit law firm Funding for our work comes from various sources Not a governmental entity Free civil (non-criminal) legal services to eligible low- income residents living in metro-atlanta (Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Clayton) Eligibility: household size and income, assets, US citizens & legal residence, case priorities Services: direct legal representation, brief service, self-help, legal advice, and referral Programs: General Law, Family Law, Grandparent/ Relative Caregiver Project, Mental Health and Disability Rights, Team Child, Home Defense, Health Law Partnership (HeLP), and Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
4 HEALTH LAW UNIT Cancer Legal Initiative Breast Cancer Legal Project Mission: We provide free civil legal services to low-income cancer patients and survivors so that they can focus on treatment and wellness, not on the legal issues they confront. Types of Legal Issues We Address: Obtaining and maintaining public benefits (TANF, Food Stamps, Housing, Unemployment) Access to health care Medicare/ Medicaid coverage and access issues Appealing insurance coverage denials (health, long-term/short-term disability) Social Security Disability/SSI (initial application advocacy, appeals, overpayments) Debt Relief (bankruptcy and consumer advocacy) Landlord/ Tenant (conditions issues & evictions) Wills, Advance Directives for Health Care, POAs, Nominations of Guardians for Minor Children Family Law (domestic violence, divorce, separation, child custody, child support) Employment Issues (FMLA, Reasonable Accommodations under ADA, COBRA) Predatory Mortgage Lending, Foreclosure Issues, and Consumer Fraud
5 Why Pro Bono? The need for legal services for the poor and those of modest means is great and there are not enough lawyers available to address the need and paralegals can help bridge the justice gap It is your ethical responsibility National Federation of Paralegal Professionals: Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Guidelines for Enforcement recommends that each paralegal should aspire to contribute 24 hours of pro bono service annually. It feels good to help those who would otherwise not be able to access the justice system or arm themselves with the information they need to know about their legal rights. It gives you an opportunity for professional development and leadership roles within your workplace. Provides an opportunity for direct client contact Allows you opportunities to expand your professional network and knowledge base
6 The Justice Gap and the Need for Pro Bono- National Statistics Four Fifths of low income people do not have access to a lawyer when they need one One-half of the people who seek help from legal aid providers are being denied service because of insufficient program resources. Nationwide, over million cases a year are rejected by legal aid agencies across the country. Nationally, there are well over ten times more private attorneys providing personal legal services to people in the general population than there are legal aid attorneys serving the poor. only one legal aid lawyer per 6,415 low-income people in the country one lawyer providing personal legal services (that is, services aimed at meeting the legal needs of private individuals and families) for every 429 people in the general population.
7 Poverty in Georgia: GA ranks 13 th among the states for persons living in poverty One in 10 elderly residents live in poverty African Americans and Hispanics are more than twice as likely as white residents to live in poverty One third of all African American Households live in poverty More than 60% of low and moderate income households in Georgia experience one or more civil legal needs per year. Low income households (defined as a family of four earning up to $30,000/year) experience an average of three civil legal needs annually, totaling over two million civil legal needs per year.
8 How can Paralegals help bridge the gap? Provide supportive services for volunteer attorneys engaging in pro bono; partnering with pro bono attorneys; or by the provision of additional services for clients. With attorney supervision, paralegals can perform a wide variety of activities within a pro bono program, including: Intake interviews Research Writing Representation at administrative hearings Court appointed advocacy roles (GAL, CASA)
9 Pro Bono vs. Community Service National Associations of Paralegal Professionals Definitions "Pro Bono Publico" means providing or assisting to provide quality legal services in order to enhance access to justice for persons of limited means; charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the legal needs of persons with limited means; or individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights. See: NFPA Resolution 99-F-4. Community Service is defined as volunteer activities that would not meet the definition of pro bono, as adopted by the delegates in Resolution 99F-4 and is further defined as unpaid services that are volunteered by individuals to benefit an organization, community, or its institutions that are provided through the direction of a non-profit organization as defined under the Internal Revenue Code. The definition focuses on volunteer services that improve the quality of life for community residents, or to solve particular problems related to their needs. See: NFPA Resolution
10 Sampling: Successful Programs Using Pro Bono Paralegals Troutman Sanders: Wills Georgia Senior Legal Hotline (intake) Speakers Bureau for Cancer Patients- Alston & Bird Baker Donelson (intake) Truancy Intervention Project Guardian Ad Litem- Educational neglect cases brought against parents for chronic absenteeism. Early Intervention at School Level (GAL) Georgia Legal Services Program Use paralegals for administrative hearings (food stamps, social security, unemployment benefit hearings). Long term commitment required. Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation Saturday Paralegal Program: assisting with administrative tasks of the Saturday Lawyer Program Guardian Ad Litem Program: represent the best interests of children in contested child custody cases in Fulton County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Court appointment to represent the best interests of an abused, neglected or abandoned child involved in a juvenile court deprivation proceeding. Bringing urgency to a child's needs, both in and out of a courtroom, CASA volunteers advocate for safety, permanence and wellbeing for children through independent recommendations.
11 Ethical Concerns Avoid unauthorized practice of law: An attorney must supervise all legal services performed, Avoid Confusion: Paralegals must clearly inform clients that they are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, and Avoid Conflicts: paralegals must insure that their volunteer work does not present a conflict with the paralegal s employer Maintain Client confidentiality
12 Take the Initiative to create a Pro Bono Initiative! Contact your local bar associations Contact the State Bar Contact the public interest organizations in your community Work with your employer to develop a discrete project ABA s Directory of Pro Bono Opportunities NFPA and GAP resources
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