From the Multnomah Lawyer: YLS Pro Bono Spotlight: Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO)
Appearing in court and directly interacting with clients isn’t often the first thing new lawyers in civil practice get to experience. There is often a long wait before you are trusted to even take on a brief appearance or motion hearing. However, representing your firm’s clients isn’t the only way to gain valuable experience. Legal Aid Services of Oregon’s (LASO) pro bono programs and clinics offer new and experienced attorneys alike an opportunity to meet with clients and step into the courtroom, making a big difference for someone in our community.
LASO pro bono programs that currently have the highest need and are predicted to have an increase in demand for volunteers are the Domestic Violence Project (DVP), the Unemployment Insurance Benefits Panel, the Senior Law Project (SLP), and the new Housing Notice Clinic.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a very difficult time for people who experience abuse due to being confined at home with their abuser. Local counties and cities have seen a spike in domestic violence related calls to law enforcement and channels of support once available to survivors have been vastly curtailed. The Oregonian recently reported that organizations that provide assistance to survivors have seen an increase in demand for services and many are stretched to capacity. To help address legal needs of survivors, LASO’s DVP matches pro bono attorneys with survivors of domestic violence for representation in contested restraining order hearings. These cases tend to have short timelines, involve limited issues, and require a court appearance, which is perfect for new attorneys looking for experience and face time with a judge.
As you likely know, court operations throughout the state were restricted to statutorily-required proceedings. So while many trials and hearings have been postponed, restraining order applications continue to be accepted and contested restraining order hearings are being scheduled. LASO continues to provide legal services to survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and elder abuse. Legal Aid attorneys are representing survivors in court, and referring contested restraining order cases to volunteer attorneys through the DVP is critical right now. The DVP compiles a list of attorneys who are available to receive referrals from Legal Aid. The list functions as an on-call list and there are no specific dates. When LASO has a case to refer, we will contact an attorney from the list. There is no obligation to accept a case. We only ask that, if you are contacted, you respond to the referral as soon as possible.
The need for legal assistance with unemployment benefits is also high and rapidly increasing due to the pandemic. Between March 23 and April 30, 362,000 Oregonians filed for unemployment benefits. As unemployment claims continue to hit unprecedented levels, LASO is working to expand its pro bono attorney panel for low-income Oregonians with controversies involving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Unemployment insurance is the sole means of temporary wage replacement for workers and it is critical in preventing individuals and families from spiraling into poverty. This initiative connects UI claimants with volunteer attorneys to provide legal advice and possible representation at administrative hearings before the Oregon Office of Administrative Hearings.
Low-income seniors are another group in increasing need of legal services in our community. As widely reported, older adults are at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. Because of their increased vulnerability, many seniors are living in isolation, suffering from anxiety due to lack of access or understanding of technology, and have limited options to seek assistance. Therefore, legal assistance provided through the SLP is more critical now than ever. SLP provides free legal consultations on civil issues to seniors 60 years of age and older in Multnomah County. The SLP continues to be an important community resource by offering phone consults to seniors. By providing telephone consultations, pro bono attorneys are providing access to legal assistance for many seniors.
Finally, while an eviction moratorium is currently in place, landlord-tenant issues are expected to increase as restrictions are eased. LASO’s new Housing Notice Clinic will have volunteer attorneys provide self-represented litigants advice on their rental termination notice. The attorney will review a client’s housing termination notice and determine whether the notice is valid or whether defenses exist using a comprehensive check list. Attorneys will sign up in advance for a specific week to receive a direct referral.
But what about training? LASO’s pro bono program provides introductory trainings and ongoing support and materials to our volunteer attorneys. LASO understands that taking on a case in an area you are unfamiliar with can be daunting, so we try to make the experience as smooth as possible for our volunteers to be able to provide such a valuable benefit to clients.
Right now, LASO needs volunteer attorneys more than ever. The pandemic has only increased the need for representation of Oregonians experiencing poverty. While LASO attorneys continue to represent clients in these areas, pro bono attorneys are a key resource for our clients facing these tough situations.
For more information and to get involved, please contact Jill Mallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brett Cattani at email@example.com, or call 503.224.4086.
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