July 2020 Volunteer Spotlight: Legal Aid Society Volunteer Meredith Kershaw
Growing up in Australia, Meredith Kershaw decided to become a lawyer at the age of 6 after watching a Perry Mason episode. She stuck to that decision and in 2005 graduated from Australian National University with a law degree. While studying she developed a passion for social justice work. Ten years later, she moved from Sydney, Australia to New Jersey and paused her legal career to spend time with her three young daughters.
As she began preparing herself for admission to the New York bar, she was surprised to learn about the 50 hour pro bono requirement for admission. While this requirement caught her off guard at the time, she is now very grateful for it! It gave her the motivation she needed to start pro bono volunteering, and has continued her pro bono work despite having long ago achieved those 50 hours.
The Access to Benefits Helpline is a great volunteer opportunity at The Legal Aid Society for individuals who need to fulfill the pro bono requirement, and it’s the place where Meredith has volunteered since May 2019. Through the Helpline, New Yorkers receive legal assistance on a range of issues including health law and Medicaid, public assistance, special education, employment and the sealing of criminal convictions. As a volunteer, Meredith gathers details about a caller’s legal needs, provides some legal information, and prepares a summary of the call for Legal Aid attorneys.
When asked about a particularly memorable or impactful call, Meredith recalled this experience: “A caller had just been terminated from her job after enduring racial discrimination and harassment in her workplace. We spoke at length about her feelings of isolation, injustice and exhaustion. I provided some information about federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, but mostly I just invited the caller to share her story and actively listened. At the end of the call, she told me how meaningful it was to be heard and how much better she felt. That experience really characterized the unique opportunity of Helpline volunteers; to be entrusted with personal and important information, to acknowledge people’s hardships and concerns by synthesizing their issues and to lend a listening and compassionate ear.”
Experiences like these have strengthened Meredith’s connection to others and made her more compassionate. She is also encouraged by how many callers she speaks to that are devoting significant time and resources to seeking help on behalf of others. “The whole experience has strengthened my faith in community,” she says. “The whole experience has been truly worthwhile and is one that I look forward to continuing.”
The Legal Aid Society is so grateful to have volunteers like Meredith assist our clients. She has been an asset to the Access to Benefits Helpline and helped countless clients through her service. We also look forward to continuing to work with Meredith.
Interested in submitting a volunteer profile? Email us to find out how!
Interested in volunteering? Start searching for pro bono opportunities by interest area (e.g. family, asylum), community served (e.g. domestic violence victims, children) or location right now by using our interactive NY Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!