Legal Aid Partners with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey to Help Domestic Violence Survivors

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As a busy corporate lawyer with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P., Michele L. Connell is more at ease finalizing deal details than finessing courtroom strategy. However, Ms. Connell recently attended an intensive training in litigation so she can help women trying to break the bonds of domestic violence.

Ms. Connell is one of more than  20 Squire Sanders lawyers and paralegals volunteering with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in a new pro bono program providing legal services to survivors of domestic violence. She is part of the first group of firm lawyers and paralegals to receive special training so they can represent victims seeking civil protection orders from the courts.

Alexandria Ruden, Esq. - Legal Aid attorney

“This is a very tough issue and the training is intense,” Ms. Connell noted. She volunteered with Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program and looks forward to taking on a volunteer role that allows for more direct and ongoing assistance for Legal Aid clients dealing with domestic violence.

“An alarming number of women in our community have been and continue to become victims of domestic violence,” said David S. Goodman, managing partner of the Squire Sanders Cleveland office, a program volunteer and former president of the Legal Aid’s Board of Directors. “Last year, there were more than 4,000 reported instances of domestic violence in Cuyahoga County, and many of the victims are people without resources to obtain legal representation. This is a significant unmet need and we at Squire Sanders are extremely pleased and honored to be working with Legal Aid on this important project,” Mr. Goodman said.

Program volunteers began receiving training in September, starting with several hours spent with Legal Aid staff who outlined aspects of working with victims of domestic violence, from understanding why a victim would return to an abusive situation to the details of the civil protection order process. After the training, volunteers shadowed a Legal Aid lawyer. Legal Aid refers clients to Squire Sanders lawyers for representation.

Attorneys receiving training in the domestic violence special program.

In addition to the pro bono support, the firm has also made a four-year financial commitment to Legal Aid of $240,000. The funds support “The Samuel H. and Maria Miller / Squire Sanders Attorney for Prevention of Domestic Violence.” (The Millers are also providing financial support.) The named position will be held by Alexandria Ruden, a Legal Aid attorney with more than 25 years experience in domestic violence law. Ms. Ruden coauthors “Ohio Domestic Violence Law,” published by West, and is nationally known for her expertise in domestic violence law and the dynamics of domestic violence.

“This program is a great example of Squire Sanders’ longtime support of, and collaboration with, Legal Aid,” said Richard S. Gurbst, partner in the Cleveland office, a program volunteer, former Legal Aid lawyer and former president of Legal Aid’s board.

“Representing clients who have been subjected to violence in their homes is challenging for any attorney.” says Legal Aid Executive Director Colleen Cotter, “Squire Sanders’ enthusiasm to partner with Legal Aid to respond to this challenge is inspiring.”

Squire Sanders lawyers have previously worked with Legal Aid clients on monthly rotations in a program established in 1968 that continued for 30 years. Some firm lawyers, such as Mr. Gurbst, Barbara Hawley and Heather Tonsing Volosin, started their legal careers at Legal Aid, and Squire Sanders lawyers are regular participants in the organization’s Volunteer Lawyers Program. In addition to Mr. Gurbst and Mr. Goodman, Squire Sanders lawyer Jonathan Butcher has also served as Legal Aid’s Board president. Former Congressman and Squire Sanders attorney Louis R. Stokes is a current member of Legal Aid’s Board.

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