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from Cleveland Jewish News: Lawyers find it their job to give back to the community

Posted January 31, 2022
8:03 am

By Lisa Matkowsky

Legal assistance can be costly and is often out of reach for many who need it. This is true everywhere, but in Cleveland, the poorest big city in America, the need is staggering. Thirty percent of Cleveland residents live below the poverty level, and half earn less than $20,000 per year.

The Legal Aid Society is one well-known address for low-cost or free legal assistance, and many legal professionals and private firms dedicate time to helping those who can least afford it. In addition to annual philanthropic giving, each year more than 1,000 lawyers in Northeast Ohio donate their time to provide public outreach and pro bono legal services for those in need.

Lauren Gilbride, managing attorney of intake and volunteer lawyers program at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Andy Goldwasser of Ciano & Goldwasser in Cleveland and Beachwood; Erin R. Horan, development and communications associate at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Jeffrey Leikin of Jeffrey A. Leikin, Esq in Beachwood; and Andrew Zashin of Zashin & Rich in Cleveland and Columbus, discussed how lawyers are giving back.

The Legal Aid Society provides civil legal aid in Northern Ohio.

“Cleveland has a wealth of legal talent and Legal Aid is lucky enough to partner with some amazing attorneys, firms and corporations to provide high quality legal services to those that are low income,” Gilbride said.

Legal Aid helps with everything non-criminal, such as divorce, housing, bankruptcy, economic justice, access to health insurance and employment issues.

“The need for assistance with unemployment issues has drastically increased since COVID,” Horan said. “Demand is so high that we have to turn away half of qualified inquiries.”

Last year, they handled more than 6,600 cases, impacting more than 17,300 people.

Volunteers make up a large part of the Legal Aid Society’s resource base.

“We have a robust volunteer attorney division providing pro bono help,” Horan said.

With a volunteer roster of approximately 3,000 people, around 600 are active on a case or clinic each year. There is also an Act Two Program for retired attorneys who want to help.

“Every year approximately 20% of Legal Aid cases are handled by volunteers,” Horan said. “They expand our impact quite substantially.”

Large and small law firms give back to the community as well.

“In my experience, larger firms give back by supporting local charities and local charitable events,” Leikin said. “Smaller firms and sole practitioners, like myself, give back by participating in charitable events and providing assistance to community members on a pro bono basis. I specifically reserve and devote professional time for pro bono work for my clients who are unable to afford the hourly cost of an attorney for certain issues which would be cost prohibitive to pursue otherwise.”

Goldwasser said, “Many lawyers and law firms make it a point to give back. Annual turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving, Toys for Tots, Coats for Kids, the Cleveland Food Bank, ORT America and hundreds of other nonprofits benefit from the generous support of our legal community.”

He said the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association created the 3Rs – Rights, Responsibilities, Realities – Program, which connects lawyers, judges, law students and paralegals with high school students in Cleveland and East Cleveland schools.

“There is a systematic commitment to giving back built into the professional organization,” Goldwasser said. “The program helps teach and mentor students to learn about the U.S. Constitution and to provide them with career counseling. This program has reached more than 37,000 students.”

Giving back to the community also includes nurturing the legal education of the next generation.

Zashin said that lawyers give back in their own way and he personally enjoys education.

“I give back by teaching at Case Western Reserve Law School, where I have been teaching various family law courses for almost 20 years,” said Zashin, who writes a monthly legal column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Leikin shares that pedagogical passion. He volunteers his time to work on student programs promoting the legal profession, such as mentoring mock trial teams and competitions with high school students who may be thinking of a future legal career.

Some lawyers find it personally and professionally satisfying to give back to their community in a broader, societal capacity.

Zashin described working pro bono on an international family law case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Helping people in situations like these, even in lower courts, is tremendously satisfying because international family law is a special discipline and requires considerable education and experience,” he said. “Not every lawyer can do this.”

The lawyers that give back to the community do so because they believe that it is the right thing to do.

“When I talk with our volunteers about the pro bono work they do, many see it as their civic duty to use their unique skill set to help those that would otherwise be unable to afford legal counsel,” Gilbride said. “They also comment that it is personally fulfilling to help a person save a home, keep a child in school or ensure that someone entitled to benefits continues to receive them.”

Lisa Matkowsky is a freelance writer.


Read the story at Cleveland Jewish News: Lawyers find it their job to give back to the community | Legal Affairs |

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