October 10, 2011
Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project
With my PILP stipend, I was able to spend my summer working as a legal intern for the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project (Maine VLP) in Portland, Maine. Maine VLP is a statewide pro bono project that accepts phone calls and walk ins from low income individuals and families. Once these calls and walk ins are screened through an interview process, the clients are either given educational material/court forms and a basic explanation of the law, set up for the pro se Family Law Helpline, or put into the lawyer referral service. Approximately 10,000 clients contact the Maine VLP every year, and about 1,000 of them will end up with a private pro bono attorney through the lawyer referral service. As a legal intern I was able to be involved with every aspect of Maine VLP’s work. Part of my time was spent conducting phone and in person interviews with potential clients who were dealing with divorce, custody, domestic violence, homelessness, social security termination, bankruptcy, landlord/ tenant, guardianship, tort, contract and property issues. I was also involved with the pro se Family Law Helpline, which was made up of volunteer lawyers and law students. Every Wednesday evening and during some workday hours, I assisted clients in filling out court forms, serving opposing parties, and preparing for upcoming court dates. Additionally, I was able to attend FED (eviction) days in the local district courts, where I shadowed a pro bono attorney who was available to represent the low income defendants. I also worked on independent projects, which involved doing some research for the pro bono cases, developing a manual for volunteer lawyers for a new Kids Legal Aid Helpline, and developing a rights and responsibilities handbook for grandparents, relatives and close family friends who end up as caregivers for their family’s or friend’s children.
My interest in the law has always been on the environmental and natural resources side, but I felt this stipend opportunity would be a valuable way to experience other public interest law work. It was, and working for the Maine VLP is the most rewarding work experience I have ever had. It was very emotionally challenging at times due to the overall frustration of the clients and the depressing issues and situations they faced, but I finished work every day knowing I had had a positive effect in someone’s life. My work this summer also opened my eyes to the vast number of low income individuals and families in this country who do not have adequate access to legal assistance during some of the most stressful and painful times in their lives.
I would not have been able to work for an organization like the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project last summer without my stipend, and I would encourage every student to consider applying for a PILP stipend to work in the public interest sector during law school. It is a very valuable and incredibly worthwhile experience.