Posted October 12, 20238:00 am
Legal Aid volunteers are supported by terrific staff at Legal Aid, here to help pro bono attorneys every step of the way! Learn here the #MyLegalAidStory of Aliah Lawson, Isabel McClain and Teresa Mathern - Administrative Assistants for Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program.
They help set the tone and keep everything organized at Legal Aid Brief Clinics. Additionally, they support volunteer attorneys who take cases from Legal Aid for extended help and representation. From coordinating with community partners, to helping match clients with attorneys and ensuring that volunteers have the resources needed to help Legal Aid clients, they are indispensable to Legal Aid’s pro bono work.
Learn more about the team in this interview!
How did you first hear about Legal Aid?
Aliah Lawson: I first heard about Legal Aid when I was a student at Case Western Reserve University. My pre-law fraternity would host an annual gala to raise funds for Legal Aid and I would help organize the event. I knew about Legal Aid generally, but did not understand how I could volunteer without being an attorney. Social justice continues to be an important aspect of my life and I enjoy fighting for those in the community. When I realized how Legal Aid’s mission aligned with mine, I decided to apply for a position.
Isabel McClain: I first heard about Legal Aid by being out in the community. Also, my mother’s best friend went to college with someone who worked at Legal Aid. I first became interested in law while taking a course called “Neverland” while attending the University of Puget Sound in Washington State. The course was the study of how children are defined by the law. I realized that what I was passionate about aligned with Legal Aid’s mission and values.
Teresa Mathern: I worked at Akron Legal Aid for a little over 8 years, and then joined The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in 2022. I have always enjoyed non-profit work. It is very satisfying and honestly good for the soul. There is such a feeling of accomplishment when you are able to help a client. And on top of that to work alongside individuals with your same goal for social justice.
Why do you enjoy working with volunteers?
Aliah Lawson: It is fun to see the different perspectives and experiences that each person brings to a Brief Advice Clinic. Some attorneys are nervous because they may not have a lot of experience with the issues Legal Aid clients face, but our team helps and encourages them through it. What I find is that once people experience a Brief Advice Clinic, they are excited to come back, to do more, and to “take a case” to provide even more legal assistance to Legal Aid clients.
Isabel McClain: I enjoy getting to know people. My role allows me to meet people from other organizations and to learn about people from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds including those in the client community. My work is rewarding.
Teresa Mathern: I love meeting new people and this job provides that opportunity, while also developing relationships with a group of individuals willing to donate their time and experience to assist families and individuals that might otherwise not have legal representation or at a minimum a basic understanding of their legal problem and what remedies are afforded to them by law.
What would you say to encourage others to volunteer?
Aliah Lawson: Attorneys will be able to work with clients who are in major need of help that they likely will not get otherwise. Even the smallest contribution of your time can make a huge difference. And if you are a volunteer and need help, you are not alone. The Legal Aid staff is here to help. The work is really rewarding. Brief Advice Clinic work can provide instant gratification for both the volunteers and the clients because clients can walk away with relevant knowledge and resources moving forward. It is a valuable experience and it's rewarding to give back to the community.
Isabel McClain: I can't emphasize enough how important volunteers are to our clients. Sometimes volunteers are scared that they do not know enough to help the client, but they don't realize the peace of mind that they can give a client when they are in a legal battle. They don't understand that they can make a tangible difference in someone's life. It's great hearing from clients who in two hours were able to revise a will and preserve their family's legacy. It's great hearing how someone who had a bankruptcy issue now can have enough money to have their heat turned on for the winter.
Teresa Mathern: I would let them know that they are needed, that there are individuals and families that are not afforded legal representation. That their volunteer work would have the potential to change lives.