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  • InsideTrack
  • October 20, 2021

    Pro Bono Week: Lawyers Provide Virtual Pro Bono Services in Rural Areas

    Next week, Oct. 24-30, is National Pro Bono Week. Help celebrate by learning how lawyers are providing pro bono assistance in rural Wisconsin.

    Rebecca Emily Rapp & Jeffery Louis Brown

    Oct. 20, 2021 – A shift in the method of delivering pro bono services by Lawyers for Learners has helped the organization reach new clients in rural Wisconsin.

    Lawyers for Learners is a nonprofit that helps clients overcome legal barriers to post-secondary educational opportunities – convictions that hang up financial aid applications, or family law and housing issues that make it impossible to attend school.

    The group traditionally offered services in Madison and Milwaukee. That changed because of the pandemic, said Rebecca Rapp, a lawyer with Ascendium Education Group who volunteers with Lawyers for Learning.

    “We had to pivot a bit because of COVID and move to a virtual model. But that’s really helping us to expand and partner with technical colleges around the state, including in rural areas where there’s not so many attorneys.”

    Rapp said volunteer lawyers are able to hold virtual legal clinics with rural clients – serving multiple clients from their desks by clicking into a videoconferencing app instead of having to drive three hours.

    It’s also made receiving services easier for clients with adequate broadband, Rapp said. Now, they don’t have to find child care or otherwise schedule their whole day around traveling to meet with a lawyer. Lawyers for Learners has partnered with Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare to help serve their rural clients.

    Lawyers for Learners is always on the lookout for lawyers to perform virtual clinics and provide legal education to clients, including writing short articles and appearing in webinars, Rapp said. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Lawyers for Learners through their website.

    Rapp’s pro bono activities aren’t limited to volunteering with Lawyers for Learners. She also led an effort by Ascendium to open the Vera Court Legal Clinic on Madison’s North Side.

    As important as it was to staff the free clinic with lawyers, Rapp said the clinic would have never gotten off the ground without building trust with would-be clients. A community member who staffs the front desk was essential in making that happen.

    “She would help people issue spot that their stressors were legal issues,” Rapp said. “She helped establish that trust and then really helped make the connection so peopled would come in and see us again.”

    Rapp has also served on several Legal Service Corporation (LSC) task forces formed to look at pressing issues, including the opioid crisis, veterans’ issues, disasters, and evictions. She’s recently signed up for a new LSC task force that will examine rural access to justice.

    Rapp said her pro bono work benefits her as much if not more than it benefits her clients.

    “I’ve been given so much that made it easy for me to go get a law degree, and a lot of people haven’t. So, if I can take this gift that I’ve been given and help somebody in one small way to get a fairer shake or a fairer shot at things, I can’t imagine not wanting to do that.”

    Immigration Pro Bono Opportunity at Ft. McCoy

    The Ft. McCoy Operation Allies Welcome Legal Clinic through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is looking for volunteer attorneys and paralegals, especially those with immigration experience, to assist Afghan guests at Ft. McCoy.

    Longer commitments of one to two weeks are preferred. Or, regular volunteering such as once a week. Volunteers should at least make a two-day commitment. The Legal Clinic expects assistance from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., sometimes later, each day. The Legal Clinic is open Monday to Friday at this time but anticipates opening on Saturdays soon.

    The program is conducting presentations on legal processes important to Afghan clients including: Know Your Rights, asylum, SIV options, and humanitarian parole. Please be prepared to conduct these presentations. You will need to work with interpreters who may have varying English language skills but have deep cultural knowledge. Cultural sensitivity is required and all clients are treated with respect.

    If you are interested, please email with a brief summary of your immigration experience (if any) and your CV. We will review it quickly. We will ask you to provide a photo ID and you must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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