Few things are more important than the roof over your head. As a housing attorney, I prevent people from being evicted, help them assert their right to live in a decent, habitable home, and give general practicable knowledge about landlord-tenant law. I began my career as a volunteer through the AmeriCorps program at Northeast Legal Aid, where I assisted indigent persons through the “Lawyer for the Day” program. In this program, I worked with other housing attorneys to advise or represent people with housing issues. Eventually transitioning into a full-time job, volunteering in this capacity helped me grow as a lawyer and person. I would recommend volunteering with legal aid to all new attorneys eager to gain experience while giving back.
Practicing Housing Law
Practicing housing law comes with its fair share of stress, like any legal job. Given you work with real clients with real consequences at stake, there are a lot of emotions, stress, and strong personalities involved. Even with the stress that housing law comes with, I feel good about my work because I know I am making a positive impact and helping someone get through what might be the worst time in their lives. Although practicing housing law comes with a lot of responsibility, I know that I am never alone. Among community organizers, coworkers, legal aid volunteers, mentors, court staff, and even some opposing counsels in some cases, I am ingrained in a community. I also have many clients I have come to enjoy as people and my partners fighting for their rights. As hard as the work may be at times, it is gratifying.
The Benefits of Volunteering
The benefits of volunteering with a local legal aid program like Northeast Legal Aid are plentiful. I gained experience working with my own clients, preparing pleadings, mediations, and arguments in court as soon as I started volunteering. While working in legal aid might seem overwhelming, I worked with attorneys with full careers who still gain practical hands-on experience by volunteering a few hours a month.
It is easy to dismiss opportunities to volunteer, especially when you are not familiar with the area of practice. However, many legal aid programs offer short trainings to get new attorney volunteers up-to-speed on housing law. If you are worried about liability, volunteers are generally covered by malpractice insurance for most legal aid programs. Also, there is always an experienced housing attorney on hand to assist volunteers, review agreements, and answer any questions that may arise. If you are stuck at home during COVID-19 and you want a break from doing document review for your firm, you lost your job entirely, or your start date has been delayed, give your legal aid office a call. Some websites have collected a national database of legal aid resources from all states, similar to MassLegalHelp in Massachusetts. Legal Services Corporation is one example of a national database to find your closest legal aid resource.
Part-Time Volunteering Is OK
I ended up choosing a career in public interest and volunteered full-time with AmeriCorps, but you can still make a huge difference without making a full-time commitment. You can volunteer as much or as little as you want. One lawyer in our program has consistently volunteered with us once a month for several years. Although she only spends two hours a month with us, she has helped prevent dozens of people from being homeless. If every lawyer took on one volunteer case, we would have more volunteers than cases available. Because of COVID-19, more people are being evicted and need legal help. You never know who you will help and the difference you could make if you don’t try.