DCVLP is one of Paladin’s most active legal service organizations, so I was excited to chat with Sara about their pro bono program and what makes them so successful in recruiting volunteers. Sara Jamison joined DCVLP as Director of Volunteer Engagement and Strategic Partnerships in April 2021. Here’s what she had to say!
What is DCVLP?
DC Volunteer Lawyers Project is a legal service organization that provides pro bono representation for domestic violence survivors, at-risk children, and vulnerable immigrants living in the District of Columbia. On an annual basis, we serve over 2,000 clients, all through our unique model of staff attorneys paired with pro bono volunteers. Staff attorneys provide guidance, mentorship, pleading review, accompaniment to court, and any other support needed throughout the case.
Can you share a bit about your programs?
We have several programs including a Domestic Violence Program, Child Advocacy Program, and Immigration Relief Program, as well as clinics.
The Domestic Violence Program helps survivors obtain civil protection orders — the first step for a survivor to achieve immediate safety. A lot of times, we find that clients we help obtain civil protection orders also want to move forward with getting a divorce or obtaining custody of their children. Volunteers serve clients in all of these practice areas.
Through our Child Advocacy Program, DCVLP engages volunteer attorneys as Guardians ad Litem (GAL) in high-conflict custody cases. Volunteers really get to know the landscape of the child’s daily life, and then make a recommendation to the judge as to what they believe is the best custody arrangement for that child or children. The children our GALs represent are often living with a parent with an untreated mental health condition, a substance use problem, food insecurity, and various forms of abuse and neglect.
Our pro bono guardians ad litem play a critical role in giving a voice to the children they are representing and making sure they are not forgotten in the legal process.
We also launched an Immigration Relief Program in 2019 which helps immigrant survivors of domestic violence access relief such as U-Visas, T-Visas, SIJS, and VAWA self-petitions. We connect survivors with critical services that help them navigate living in this country as an immigrant, while connecting to the resources they need to heal from trauma and rebuild their lives.
At clinics, volunteers also have the ability to assist clients with brief legal advice on civil protection orders, custody, divorce, guardianship, immigration.
How is DCVLP driving innovation in pro bono?
Pre-pandemic, we held community-based clinics. We never stopped operating during the pandemic. There was not a day when we didn’t serve clients — we pivoted immediately and started serving our clients remotely. What we realized was that this offered a new access point for survivors who couldn’t take time off work or find childcare to attend an in-person clinic.
As we emerge into a post-pandemic setting, we recognize the need to keep both our remote and in-person clinics going.
We had to innovate around our clinic practice and it ultimately opened up more doors to survivors to get help, as well as opened up new access points for volunteers who can now staff legal clinics remotely.
How does DCVLP use Paladin?
We started using Paladin in early 2021, and it’s been great — we started out just posting clinics, and over time we’ve migrated all of our volunteer signups to take place through Paladin.
The newest, most exciting way we’re using Paladin is to manage volunteer availability and placement for our civil protection order cases.
For efficiency, we have volunteers sign up for a CPO hearing slot weeks or months in advance, and then match them to a client who has a hearing scheduled on that date. We used to coordinate this scheduling via Doodle, but now we‘ve moved it all onto Paladin so our volunteers can indicate their availability and we can assign them to a case, all in one place.
What do you want pro bono attorneys to know about your program?
We prioritize training and supervision. A lot of our volunteers have a background in corporate law, and may be intimidated by the prospect of going to court. We have comprehensive trainings by practice area, available virtually on-demand and live on Zoom.
For every case or clinic, there is a supervising attorney to guide you through the process — and beyond being a great resource for volunteers, this model allows us to broaden our reach in the community and help more survivors.
Thank you to Sara and the DCVLP team for their incredible work on behalf of children, vulnerable immigrants, and survivors of domestic violence. Learn more and sign up for DCVLP projects here.