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3 minute read

Chuck Guerrier shares tips on how to turn CLEs into interactive outings

Lessons from a Pandemic

When Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham adapted services for the COVID-19 world, our volunteers were there.

Beth Graham, a volunteer for Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham (VLB) and attorney for Bressler, Amery, & Ross.

“I believe it’s a duty for all of us as lawyers to help the community if we can. I’d encourage everybody to do even one small pro bono matter with VLB, and they’ll be hooked.

”JADE SNIPES

Beth Graham, a volunteer for Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham (VLB) and attorney for Bressler, Amery, & Ross, has experienced frustrations familiar to anyone who has survived working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I miss the face-to-face contact with the clients,” she says. “I think the pandemic has made us all miss that personal touch.”

When the pandemic began, VLB switched nearly overnight from an in-person Help Desk program to an all-virtual format. The mission was the same: to help low-income residents of Jefferson County by providing free civil legal help. The need also remained the same: for volunteer lawyers to give their time and expertise by signing up to take cases through the new virtual Help Desks.

The response was tremendous. Law firms, corporations, solo practitioners and brand-new volunteers signed up to take assignments for the virtual Help Desk, continuing to help clients through phone appointments, delivering documents by email, and often going above and beyond to make sure their civil legal needs were met in spite of complications presented by the pandemic.

And many volunteers found an upside in the process. VLB staff lawyers have always been on site at the Help Desks to answer questions and provide support to the volunteers. Working virtually, the staff instead began preparing detailed case files in advance of appointments and giving volunteer attorneys time to review cases and ask questions as needed.

“I have been impressed with how easy the Help Desk has made virtual volunteering,” Graham says. “I receive a client file the day before my scheduled appointment, which gives me time to review it and research any issues I have questions about. The Help Desk also facilitates sending documents to the clients after our appointment, so it could not be easier.”

Other volunteers echo that sentiment.

“Before the pandemic, you’d walk over to the courthouse and be there for two or three hours, which is fun and you get to see a lot of different people,” says Jade Sipes, an attorney with Baker Donelson and longtime volunteer. “But in some ways, the virtual

“I have been impressed with how easy the Help ” Desk has made virtual volunteering. BETH GRAHAM

Help Desk can be easier. I’ve done a lot of virtual Help Desks during the pandemic, and multiple times I’ve had questions about rent and the stay on evictions. That’s not my day-to-day practice area. So I can call the VLB staff and ask, ‘Do you think this advice is too aggressive? Do you think we need to do this?’ And the VLB staff is always there to help.”

Sipes also compares cases in advance with her colleagues and fellow volunteers. “We call each other and say, ‘I have a rent eviction case, let me tell you about it.’ And they’ll say, ‘That’s interesting, I have a property-damage case.’ And we can talk together and figure out what we would recommend to the clients. It’s really helpful.

“I feel fortunate to be a lawyer, and it’s funny how something I take for granted like knowledge of how the courts work or litigation can really help somebody,” Sipes adds. “I believe it’s a duty for all of us as lawyers to help the community if we can. I’d encourage everybody to do even one small pro bono matter with VLB, and they’ll be hooked.”

To volunteer with VLB, please contact Michelle Horn Brown

at mbrown@vlbham.org or

205-623-0901. Jade Sipes, an attorney with Baker Donelson and VLB volunteer.