Pro Bono News

Legal Aid Opens Virtual Office for Low-Income Wayne County Residents (OH)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Legal Aid Opens Virtual Office for Low-Income Wayne County Residents

"Some are grandparents raising grandchildren due to the opioid epidemic.

Others have been evicted from their homes with nowhere to turn, or feeling powerless to get out of a domestic violence scenario.

What they have in common is that they need legal help, but are unable to afford it.

But thanks to a new partnership between Community Legal Aid and Community Action of Wayne and Medina Counties, Wayne County residents are just a video call away from free legal advice.

In a unique pilot program, Legal Aid last July set up a virtual office onsite at Community Action’s Wooster location. The office allows low-income resident the opportunity to “meet” with an attorney or prepare legal documents with a court advocate while sitting in the community building.

The meetings take place through technology. Clients using the program are able to see and hear the Legal Aid staff member through a video device to get help with issues including housing, family matters, record sealing and expungements, public benefits, federal taxes, bankruptcy and domestic violence.

The virtual office was created to meet Wayne County’s needs even as the non-profit law firm has been spread thin.

Currently, Legal Aid also serves clients in Summit, Mahoning, Portage, Columbiana, Medina, Stark and Trumbull counties, but only has staffed offices in Akron, Canton, Warren and Youngstown.

“We know that face-to-face interaction is the best way to build trust with our clients,” said John Petit, managing attorney for Legal Aid’s housing and consumer program, who is also overseeing the virtual office pilot. “That’s hard to do when you’re 40 miles away. This program seeks to lessen that barrier and helps our clients get to know us, and vice versa, so they see a real person who cares about their problems and is helping them.”

So far, 45 residents have benefited from the virtual office program, said Melissa Pearce, president and CEO of Community Action..."

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