Bar Bulletin

September, 2004

"Serving Special Needs in the Immigrant Community"
By Lisa Muscara

From 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month, Jewish Legal Services (JLS) opens its doors to provide free legal advice to income-eligible members of the community. The free clinic, located at 5750 Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore City, is a program of The Associated Jewish Community Federation and has been operating for close to eight years. With the help of volunteer coordinators, attorneys and paralegals, JLS fields a wide range of legal questions from nearly 100 clients annually.

For the past several years, Anupa Mukhopadhyay has joined other generous volunteers to staff the JLS walk-in clinic. For an hour and a half, they provide private consultations with clients to address their law-related questions, some of which pertain to immigration matters. A strong immigrant community surrounds the clinic, so the clinic receives more immigration questions than other general legal clinics in the City. These immigration questions are deftly handled by experienced immigration attorneys like Mukhopadhyay.

Mukhopadhyay’s private practice is a combination of business, corporate and immigration law, and it is from this base that her interest in immigration law evolved. Mukhopadhyay notes how her European clients particularly prefer to work exclusively with one attorney, and she recalls her initial foray into immigration law.

“I had some multinational clients who needed their employees to come in here and set up their U.S. subsidiary, develop and operate it,” says Mukhopadhyay. “One of my European clients basically said, ‘I don’t want to go to anyone else, I want you to do the immigration.’ So I ended up doing the immigration and that sort of got the ball rolling, and now 50 percent of my practice is immigration, 50 percent is business and corporate, commercial litigation and transactional work.” This experience has served Mukhopadhyay well, and it has certainly been an advantage to JLS clients.

Most of the immigration inquiries clients bring to the JLS clinic are very basic. “For example, we will receive questions such as: ‘I filed an application for a work permit or to adjust my status, and I haven’t received it. Can you look at my papers and tell me, am I supposed to do something else?’” Mukhopadhyay explains. “Sometimes it’s as simple as telling them, you just have to wait because it’s the Federal government and you just have to wait for them to process your paperwork.” There have been cases which have required a follow-up letter from Mukhopadhyay, but as she explains, “most of the times, even if it takes a little bit of time, we are mostly done by nine o’clock.”

As is often the case with immigration matters, language frequently creates a barrier to progress for some JLS clients. Here again, volunteers step in to ensure that quality services are delivered. Mukhopadhyay has upon occasion availed herself of these volunteer translation services, which have allowed her to provide legal advice to clients who otherwise would not be able to access her expertise.

Volunteering at JLS is Mukhopadhyay’s first experience with pro bono service; she learned about the opportunity during a morning meeting at her firm Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman. The partners have continued to be very supportive of her pro bono efforts, and in fact two of the three partners, Jeffrey Lippman and Edward Friedman, volunteer with JLS themselves. Mukhopadhyay reports that it has been a good experience for her, and she has seen the dramatic impact her advocacy can create.

JLS serves low-income members of the community with any legal problems they encounter. If you would like to join the ranks of volunteers who gather for a few hours each month to offer legal advice to the Park Heights community, please contact Sharon E. Goldsmith at (410) 837-9379.

Lisa Muscara is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.



Publications : Bar Bulletin: September, 2004

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