One frustrating reality that I learned pretty quickly when I started doing legal aid work is that I can often get a call returned more easily than my clients can. CLASI is not always a first resort when a legal issue arises for our clients. Many of our clients end up becoming our clients, not because they have not or cannot advocate for themselves, but because they were unable to get someone to respond to them. I often hear from clients that, before becoming my client, they made repeated attempts to resolve an issue on their own. And I have found that I can make a similar attempt and get a different result. I can call someone who ignored the several voicemails my client left and get a call back.
This should not be the case. However, before COVID-19, before we were all required to stay home and offices were closed to the public, in the face of a legal issue, at least one could do more than just pick up the phone. COVID has left so many members of our community to navigate systems that were never intended to operate remotely; systems that are now overburdened with phone calls and emails awaiting a response. And while isolating has been necessary and beneficial for fighting COVID, it has been just that: isolating. Gone are the days (for now) when you could walk into an office to talk to someone face to face, or when you could stop by a neighbor’s house to chat about a problem.
As an attorney in CLASI’s Medical Legal Partnership unit, I handle cases across a range of areas of the law. My cases come in by way of referrals from our various healthcare partners in the state, who screen their patients for legal issues in the healthcare setting. Right now, I am working on cases related to public benefits, special education, immigration, and family law. My clients’ legal issues vary, and their experiences and the impact of those legal issues are unique to them. But one thing that I have heard from several of my clients whose cases have come in during the health crisis is their frustration specific to the challenges of trying to resolve things from home over the phone during this time.
I share in my clients’ frustration, and feel it in my own way. I am a new attorney and was admitted to the Delaware Bar earlier this year. I worked at CLASI as a paralegal before I went to law school. An enormous reason that I wanted to return to CLASI as an attorney was because of the collaborative culture of the organization. I knew that I would be working in a place where I would get the support that I want at this stage in my career. Being in the office every day, surrounded by people who know a lot more than I do, is comforting and important for a new lawyer. Although we have not lost our collaborative spirit, and colleagues are readily available to help me and are generous with their time, it is just not the same as being in the office. Zoom is not conducive to spontaneous group brainstorming sessions, or drop-ins to someone’s office to ask a quick question.
As we emerge from the worst of the health crisis, there are many more crises awaiting those in our community who are vulnerable. During the COVID health crisis, advocates fought successfully to prevent things like evictions, Medicaid terminations, and utility shut offs from taking place. But, these protections will not last forever. After those protections are lifted, it is all the more likely that people will be behind on their rent or their electric bill. For as much as I worry about our clients, I worry as much about those in the community who have not made their way to us, and are facing legal issues that they try to resolve on their own, knowing it is all that much harder right now. Now more than ever it is important for people to know that CLASI, DVLS, and LSCD exist. I believe that our advocacy for, and partnership with our clients is more important now than it has been in a long time. Though we have stayed plenty busy while working from home since March, I am bracing myself to get a whole lot busier, and feeling more grounded than ever in my decision to be a legal aid lawyer.
Medical Legal Partnership
Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.