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New Leadership for Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program and Intake Group

Posted March 29, 2021
3:35 pm

When Lauren Gilbride applied for a summer associate position at Legal Aid in 2006, Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) was only two years old. Lauren was assigned to work in the VLP group and earned a front-row seat to the development of what has become a national model for volunteer engagement in civil legal aid.

Lauren was promoted to Managing Attorney of Legal Aid’s VLP and Intake Group on January 1, 2021, having spent the previous 12 years at Legal Aid, including eight years as Supervising Attorney for the Group.

“The connection between VLP and Intake has always been important,” says Lauren. “I’ve learned so much from the intake staff, including the needs of our clients and why they were reaching out to Legal Aid which informed what kinds of trainings we wanted to offer our volunteers.”

Lauren is focused on growing impact through technology to better engage volunteers and serve Legal Aid clients.  She is an administrator of the case management system Legal Aid uses to track all case and client data. She has worked on numerous projects to improve user experiences and track and analyze the data that comes from the system. Lauren also led the creation of Legal Aid’s online intake system, which launched in 2019. The system became a critical way for clients to apply for help under COVID-19 restrictions, when in-person meetings and appointments were not possible.

“We were very careful to make online intake user-friendly and personal; we had to strike a balance of simplifying questions and collecting enough data to make the process efficient and valuable.”

Very early into the COVID-19 crisis, Lauren and her colleagues recognized that Legal Aid’s client community would have a surge in needs for help with issues related to employment and unemployment compensation.

“We put out a call for volunteers and set up Virtual Advice Clinics to connect them with clients. Since mid-April, we’ve consistently had several volunteers each week advising clients on these cases related to economic justice issues.”

Lauren says the volunteers have even started connecting with one another to provide mentorship and assistance. At a virtual Brown Bag lunch this winter, Legal Aid attorneys took turns with seasoned volunteers to present about common issues faced while working on pro bono cases. The most common types of cases handled by volunteers in 2020 were related to housing or employment, a reflection of the increased needs around those issues in our region.

Looking ahead, Lauren says she is considering how to integrate some of the new virtual programs designed in response to COVID-19 into the regular activities of VLP and Intake at Legal Aid.

Building a better, brighter future for Northeast Ohio is what drives Lauren in her work every day. A lifelong Clevelander who currently lives in Shaker Heights with her three children and husband, Lauren says one of the things she loves most about this area is that, “people are really proud of their city and want it to do well. Supporting our clients is really about bettering the community – because everyone deserves to have their dreams and hopes fulfilled.”

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