Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2007

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 PRO BONO Profile:  
Refugees seek the comfort of our shores for many different reasons. Sometimes, armed conflicts or natural disasters make it dangerous for them for them to return home. In these instances it is possible for people to enter our country and work under a Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

However, TPS is not a status that leads to permanent resident status and therefore it is necessary for anyone being granted TPS to re-register annually. Getting members of the immigrant community re-registered is just one of the projects of Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services (ILS), which also provides a wide array of legal services to the immigrant community. In addition to legal services, ILS also offers employment counseling and English as a Second Language classes to help immigrants adjust to living in the United States.

Recently, the Salvadoran community in Baltimore has been particularly in need of the immigration services provided by ILS. Historically, there have been a number of challenges to the project. The re-registration process is complicated and legal advice is of the utmost importance. Immigration law in itself is complex and attorneys need to receive specific training in order to equip them to properly assist their clients. Finding a time when attorneys and their clients can meet together is difficult.

Out of the challenges has risen a very successful collaboration. Volunteers from DLA Piper, LLP, with other private attorneys from the area, as well as law students from both the University of Baltimore School of Law and the University of Maryland School of Law joined to form a legal group to assist with TPS cases. Patricia Chiriboga-Roby, Senior Staff Attorney at ILS, took the lead in organizing the clinic and training the volunteers. Almost a dozen attorneys, as well as a half-dozen law students, underwent a rigorous training program geared towards giving them a solid basis in the necessary immigration law. Many of the volunteers had little or no experience in immigration law. Clinics were set up for two separate Sundays in order to accommodate both attorneys and clients.

Though their inexperience provided some initial apprehension, the volunteer attorneys stated that the quality of the ILS staff, training and clinic design allayed their concerns. ILS provided translators so that volunteers who did not speak Spanish were able to work with their clients. In addition, ILS staff attorneys were on hand and circulating among the volunteers during the clinic to answer questions and help deal with more complicated cases. The volunteer attorneys noted that the support of the ILS attorneys made them feel like they were doing much needed work for the clients in a setting that made them feel comfortable and confident that they could provide quality legal services.

After the training, volunteers were asked to work at the clinic on a Sunday afternoon. During the clinic, volunteer attorneys met with individual clients and helped them with their cases so they might successfully apply for Temporary Protective Status. The attorneys in the clinic enjoyed the opportunity to engage in such fulfilling work. Kelly Tubman Hardy, a volunteer from DLA Piper and a long-time supporter of this project, noted that it was rewarding to be able to tell a client that she had Joe Finnerty, a highly respected and experienced litigator, as her attorney. For his part, Finnerty said that the few hours on a Sunday afternoon was not very demanding and that other volunteers rendered far more service. This is Hardy’s third time helping ILS find volunteers. She added that DLA Piper attorneys always want to help out with the clinic as it is such a positive experience.

In the two clinic days, 38 TPS applications were filed for clients. This number represents about one quarter of the total number of Salvadoran TPS applications filed by ILS annually. The success of this clinic model clearly demonstrates that volunteer attorneys, supported by law firms passionate about serving their communities, can work successfully with legal service agencies to provide high-quality, pro bono access to justice to the members of our community who need it the most.

Support the legal service agencies in your community. Lend your resources to the fight. For information about pro bono opportunities in your community, contact the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland at (800) 396-1274 or (410) 837-9379, or e-mail pbrc@probonomd.org.

Jared Jaskot is an intern and Jon Moseley Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2007