Do Something Good During These Tough Times and Pay It Forward

J0439384 By Loni Morganelli
American Paralegal in London

While the loss of a job can leave us feeling down and out, volunteer work in the legal industry can offer us a bit of positive relief. 

One of the most well-known pro bono volunteer organizations in the world is Reprieve.  Founded in the UK, Reprieve also offers volunteer opportunities in the U.S. out of New Orleans.  Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.  Working on the frontlines, they provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for legal support.  As its mission statement boasts, Reprieve "promotes the rule of law around the world to secure each person's right to a fair trial." Their work ultimately saves lives.

Because Reprieve provides legal assistance services, they require support from all walks of the legal profession - and that includes paralegals and legal assistants.  Volunteers are often entrenched in the legal investigatory work which requires valuable skills well-known to paralegals.  In the UK, Reprieve's lawyers currently represent over 30 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.  The Group also continues to assist British nationals facing the death penalty around the world, and are conducting investigations into secret prisons.

In the U.S., Reprieve places volunteers in law offices across the U.S., though usually in the deep south, where they will assist on death penalty cases where the capital defense system is critically underfunded.  Those of us who work in criminal law know how life-changing and valuable this type of work can be.  While volunteer positions with Reprieve are often unpaid, the work that you do during your placement can be some of the most rewarding work you'll ever do in your life.  If you can spare the time and lack of money, this might be the start of an amazing journey.  You never know where your work might take you and what doors might subsequently open up as a result.

For more information on Reprieve, please visit: http://www.reprieve.org in the U.S. or www.reprieve.org.uk in the U.K.


Womble Carlyle recruits for legal assistance project for veterans

This article from the Winston-Salem Journal sure sounds like a very worthy volunteer opportuity for paralegals (& others):

"A statewide pro-bono project started by Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC is recruiting licensed North Carolina attorneys, supervised paralegals, legal-support staff and law students to provide free legal assistance for military veterans."


Helen Raschke Pro Bono Award

Must read this very inspiring article from the The Black Hills Pioneer (SD)

"If you were to talk to Helen Raschke of Lead, she would tell you that the best years of her life were spent doing pro bono work because she was helping people in trouble.

"In April of this year, Raschke was honored as an award was given in her name for the work she did for 16 years as a Private Attorney Coordinator -- a job that didn't exist before she started at West Texas Legal Services in Wichita Falls, Texas. The Helen Raschke Pro Bono Award will be awarded annually to the most helpful legal assistant/secretary for a pro bono attorney. In her speech before announcing the first recipient of the award, Raschke said, 'They all need to be valued and appreciated for enabling more legal services to be provided to the poor [PDF]. This new award will be a token of our admiration, respect and appreciation.' She also added, 'The secretary could make or break your day.'"

Helen's sure got that right!


Paralegals 'Adopt' Military Paralegals

This article from the Richmond (KY) Register -- "Showing you care may be easier than you think" -- shows how you can help support US troops:

"Receiving a package from someone special is always exciting, but for troops serving overseas, it’s a little piece of home.

"Many people may think it’s a good idea to send some goodies to our men and women who are at war, but don’t know where to begin. One Richmond woman said it’s easier than you might think.

"Lee Williams is a Richmond citizen and a member of the Greater Lexington Paralegal Association, an organization which provides resources to paralegals in Lexington, Richmond, Winchester and other surrounding areas. Since 2005, Williams and other GLPA members have adopted other paralegals who are in the military. They send them care packages and keep in contact with them until they come home.

"'It is a very simple thing to do,' Williams said. 'We have a military-issued list of what we can send to them and everybody has a copy of it. We donate to the box and when it’s full, we send it on. We always get responses that it makes them feel like Christmas and how thankful that they are that they have not been forgotten.'"

You can see the list of approved items at the article's end.


"Senior Legal Hotline connects seniors with the experts"

Sounds like a good volunteering opportunity described in this Chico, CA newspaper article. Does your local government or bar association offer similar programs?

"The Senior Legal Hotline is surely one of the best kept secrets. The hotline provides California residents over the age of 60 with fast, accurate advice on any legal subject by phone, from Social Security issues to age discrimination, housing and elder abuse.

"Sound too good to be true? The service is provided by a team of lawyers, paralegals [volunteer info PDF], interns and volunteers who help more than 10,000 callers a year solve problems faced by seniors, and may offer limited extra assistance when required. Perhaps a child custody problem arises, where a grandparent is held out of the health care system. Or, as many of callers can attest, seniors are pressured to obtain a loan they neither need nor can afford, and require extraction from deals that further place them in financial jeopardy."


"Corporations Decry Official's Detainee Screed"

So far, corporations aren't following Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Stimson's suggestion that they boycott firms representing Guantanamo detainees:

"It’s a rare day when law firms get called out for their pro bono work.

"But that’s exactly what happened when Pentagon official Charles “Cully” Stimson rattled off a list of firms representing Guantánamo Bay detainees — such as Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw; Jenner & Block; WilmerHale; and Covington & Burling — predicting that businesses would shun their outside counsel for making the companies foot terrorists’ legal bills.

“'I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms. And I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out,' said Stimson in an interview with Federal News Radio Jan. 11.

"And it has played out, but not in quite the way Stimson expected. Instead of Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, DaimlerChrysler, and Pfizer dumping their outside counsel in a fit of political protest, firms have largely gotten support from corporate America and from within their partnership ranks."

You can find a list of firms & detainees represented in this same article. Scroll down to table titled "For Detainees, a Load of Legal Firepower." a Load of Legal Firepower


Paralegals staff voting question 'hotlines'

Helping people vote legally & successfully is a good thing:

"South Carolina voters will have a lot of company at the polls on Election Day as several groups say they will watch for problems across the state.

[snip]

"The U.S. Justice Department will dispatch more than 800 observers nationwide, a record for a non-presidential election year, but will not make an announcement about where poll watchers will be located until Monday, agency spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said Friday.

"Meanwhile, several voter groups will document voting problems and a task force made up of U.S. attorneys and FBI agents will investigate any allegations of election fraud.

"The poll watchers will be looking for incidents like when several students, were turned away momentarily from a precinct at Benedict College in 2004 after poll watchers affiliated with the Republican Party contested the legality of their vote.

[snip]

"In addition to having volunteers at the polls, voters who encounter problems can call 866-OUR-VOTE as part of a national effort organized by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Callers to the hotline will reach a legal assistant trained in South Carolina election law. If the caller needs immediate legal attention, it will be routed to Columbia, where attorneys will be standing by."


"Former paralegal finds fulfillment working with 'tweens at library"

Charming story about the joys of being retired (not anytime soon for me)!

"When Jayne Morrison goes to work, she couldn't be happier.

"She loves every moment she spends in the children's department of the Boca Raton Public Library.

"'Being here is like being in a terrific garden,' she said. 'There's everything here.'

"Morrison talks about her job as if she's worked there for years. But she joined the library staff just four years ago, after leaving a long career as a paralegal two years earlier.

"'I was a paralegal for 25 years,' said Morrison, who lives in Boca Raton with her husband, Burt. 'I became a grandma, and my perspective of life changed.'

"This fall, Morrison started leading a monthly book discussion for 'tweens, youngsters ages 9 to 12 who are between childhood and adolescence."


Grant provides aid, paralegal services

Sounds like a good job opportunity in Montana:

"A grant recently awarded to the Montana Legal Services Association will allow the group to bolster its services across the state.

"According to Klaus Sitte, executive director for the association, the $650,000 Legal Assistance for Victims grant [PDF link] through the Montana Department of Justice will fund positions for three attorneys, and three paralegals. Those employees will be assigned to the Butte, Hi-Line and Billings areas."


"Manila paralegal grads visit Bilibid prisoners"

Remarkable post-graduation introduction for paralegals in the Philippines:

"Graduates from The Manila Times Institute for Paralegal Studies (TMTIPS) interacted on Monday with 120 inmates at the National Bilibid Prisons taking up a special course in business administration.

"The inmates attend class at the College Building in Camp Sampaguita, the NBP’s medium security facility.

"The course is offered by the University of Perpetual Help–Dalta, Las Piñas, in partnership with the Bureau of Corrections."