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Legal Aid Applauds CMBA’s Leadership and Partnership

Posted August 20, 2020
2:27 pm

The connection between Legal Aid and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association (CMBA) is long-standing and unique, and the larger community has benefited greatly from this special partnership.

“The CMBA and Legal Aid make a formidable team,” says Rebecca Ruppert McMahon, Chief Executive Officer of the CMBA. “Through our collaboration, we help promote a culture of pro bono service in the bar, and work to ensure our legal community is looked to as a leader in the United States, promoting civil legal services for the poor.”

All Legal Aid attorneys are members of the CMBA, and many are also involved in various committees and sections. The CMBA code stipulates that a board position is reserved for Legal Aid’s Executive Director. This ensures that Legal Aid has a voice in policy discussions, and the perspectives and interests of our client community are represented. Legal Aid’s Board includes several past CMBA Presidents and current leaders. Legal Aid and the CMBA share core values, including a commitment to promoting public service and community engagement among private attorneys. Together, CMBA and Legal Aid have long partnered on multiple pro bono programs, including pro se divorce clinics, bankruptcy clinics, and most recently, Say Yes to Education, which launched its Cleveland chapter in 2019. Another important CMBA initiative was precipitated by the onset of COVID-19: a bench-bar task force to facilitate consistency and collaboration among Northeast Ohio’s court systems. Legal Aid Applauds CMBA’s Leadership and Partnership.

Say Yes to Education

In 2018, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon had an idea to pilot legal clinics for CMSD parents. He consulted with the president of the CMBA for help establishing such a program, and the CMBA in turn reached out to Legal Aid to collaborate on the project.Based on the learnings form this pilot, the CMBA and Legal Aid were well-positioned to serve the legal needs of CMSD families with the launch of Say Yes to Education Cleveland. Say Yes to Education is a nonprofit that provides scholarships and supportive services to low-income students at public schools. In 2019, Say Yes established a chapter in Cleveland.

Together, Legal Aid Executive Director Colleen Cotter and Rebecca Ruppert McMahon teamed up to co-chair the Say Yes to Education-Cleveland Legal Services Task Force and designed a system for connecting families in need with free legal assistance. The program includes Legal Aid staff, CMBA staff and leaders, staff from partner organizations, and pro bono volunteers. This partnership leverages CMBA and Legal Aid strengths. The CMBA is leading recruitment of volunteer attorneys by leveraging its communications and stature in the legal community. Legal Aid provides intake and referral services, supports volunteers, and directly provides legal assistance to CMSD families. The CMBA is helping to recruit volunteer attorneys by leveraging its communications and outreach. The combined strength of CMBA and Legal Aid sends a powerful message to local lawyers who want to be effective advocates for
justice when they engage in public service.

COVID-19 and the Courts

COVID-19 caused courts all over the country to re-think their operations and design new protocols for legal proceedings. Because there is no unified court system in Ohio, the table was set for a patchwork of dramatically different rules. CMBA leadership sought to mitigate unnecessary differences in court responses to COVID-19. Soon after Stay at Home orders were in place, the CMBA created a task force to establish best practices for court operations in both the short and long terms. Led by Brendan Sheehan, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge, and Joe Gross, President of the CMBA, the CMBA Bench-Bar COVID-19 Task Force includes representatives from every court in Cuyahoga County and has met two to four times a month since March 25th. Former CMBA President Ian Friedman was co-chair for the first few months, then passed the torch to Joe. Legal Aid applauds the CMBA for turning this bold vision into reality.

The task force’s goal is to bring leaders of the bar (attorneys) and bench (judges) together to ensure courts to provide access the courts and keep people safe. As a part of this task force, Legal Aid ensures that every conversation about court accessibility and functionality during this time takes into consideration the constraints faced by people in poverty. There has been markedly less confusion and more consistency in court operations due to the CMBA’s leadership.

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