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Beyond the classroom: A law student’s perspective on pro bono service

By Ryan Sander, OSBA law school liaison for Capital Law School

When I entered law school, I, like many of my classmates was unsure of where I saw myself in three years. I had a vague notion that I wanted to use my future skills as an attorney to help families in need but I was not exactly sure how I was going to do it. I loved the law school curriculum, but I wanted to fill in my extra time with experience and helping my community. I applied to The Legal Aid Society of Columbus​ (LASC) in January of my first year in law school.

LASC is a nonprofit law firm that provides representation to low-income individuals and families in domestic, consumer, housing, public benefits, and tax areas, while providing concentrated services for veterans and the elderly. LASC employs staff attorneys, paralegals and support staff, but also relies on more than thirty in-house volunteers who work part-time at the main office.

I interviewed with Dianna Parker, current Pro Bono Coordinator of LASC. I was offered a position to work with the Intake Team that semester and continued to do so during my first summer clerkship. This was the beginning of what would become the central focus of my law school career.

My experience with interviewing clients and determining eligibility was very helpful in learning the legal issues LASC provides services for and how I could incorporate those skills with future clients as an attorney. While volunteering with the Intake Team, I became more familiar with the attorneys and how LASC provided representation for clients in need. If we are not able to provide representation, LASC recommends other programs and resources for assistance. This gave me a lot of knowledge of legal resources in the Columbus area.  

After working with the Intake Team, I took an opportunity to continue with LASC and work with the Volunteer Resource Center and Pro Bono Team. In this capacity, I have been able to see the direct impact that The Legal Aid Society of Columbus has on the community and how it uses the resources of the private bar to expand that impact.

LASC sponsors and coordinates a number of volunteer programs. Our pro bono work is divided into three categories: The Volunteer Resource Center (direct referral of housing, consumer, and unemployment compensation cases); our brief advice clinics and brief service clinics at local churches, homeless shelters, low-income senior facilities, and the VA); and our other case referral projects covering tax, foreclosure, divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning.

I have been working with the Pro Bono Program for the past year and a half and currently interview clients about their cases, assess whether they are appropriate for pro bono referral and facilitate referrals with pro bono counsel. Working on cases in the areas of bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, consumer, estate planning, and divorce has given me an introduction to a wide variety of legal practice areas.

My experience at LASC has reinforced the importance of community involvement. Providing pro bono services allows law students and attorneys to dedicate their energy to a demographic in need while learning and developing crucial practice skills. I plan to continue this passion as a practicing attorney.

For law students, it can be difficult to dedicate time to pro bono efforts; however, doing so enhances classroom education and helps serve the community. By giving me access to so many talented attorneys, working at LASC has enabled me to develop my legal research and writing skills while learning the organization and efficiency needed to represent clients. Focusing on one’s studies and taking law school seriously is important, but supplementing those efforts with real-world experience that provides a tangible benefit to the community is crucial to having a well rounded experience. Working at The Legal Aid Society of Columbus has been an incredible experience and I encourage all law students to explore how they can become more involved in their local legal aid programs.​ 

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