Volunteer FAQ

Why do you do this?

We believe that God wants us to. He has a special concern for the poor and those who are denied justice and we’ve found joy in doing our part to fight injustice and poverty. And it brings us joy to love and serve others!

What types of legal matters do you handle?

Our clinics are like triage at an Emergency Room. We see everyone for every type of legal issue. We tend to see similar poverty law matters including family law, real estate, landlord/tenant, and small claims court matters. We do try to match clinic attorneys with clients in their area of expertise but often we need to become general practitioners, able to give people good legal advice and a referral if one is needed.

Do I need to be an expert in some area of poverty law?

No, but we will provide you with the resources you need to give good advice and a mentor if you choose to handle a case. You may even want to get experience in an area of law that is new to you. If you have learned patent law you will be able to handle a case in landlord-tenant court.

Do I have to take cases back to my office?

No. Only if you want to. It happens because our clinic attorneys see the need and often want to help the client they have met with. But serving on the front lines at clinic is enough. Don’t feel that you need to take cases too.

What if I can't come to any clinics, how else can I help?

In many ways. You can be a referral attorney, you can mentor a young attorney, you can speak at one of our Community Legal Education workshops, you can let your friends and law firm and church know about our work.

What do referral attorneys do?

They agree to screen cases that come from our clinics in areas of practice they specify of clients who have been pre-screened and pre-qualified. We only seek referrals of cases that we would want to handle ourselves.

What commitment do you ask of clinic attorneys?

We ask them to come once a month, for 4 hours per evening. That is actually less than the 50 hours a year that is recommended by the ABA.

Do you only help low income people?

Yes, that is our mission. But we tend not to turn anyone away. If someone comes to a clinic who can afford to pay for counsel we ask them to consider making a contribution to the ministry and we seek to make a referral to an attorney they can expect to pay.

How should I dress?

Look like an attorney. Dress as you would if you were meeting an important client at your office.

What should I bring?

A laptop, legal pad, and a pen. We will provide everything else.

How should I prepare for clinic?

Get yourself prepared spiritually. Think about something God is doing in your life that you can share with others.

Do you pray and share the Gospel with clients?

Hopefully, but not as often as we would like. We always ask permission and speak in humility and with respect. It is a Christian ministry, we are at a church, clients understand that most of our attorneys are motivated to serve by their Christian faith.

How do you share the Gospel?

Again, in humility and with respect. We first want to get to know the client and where they are coming from. We don’t have any particular method. It comes out of our lives, our personal walk, explaining what Jesus has done for us.

Do you only serve Christian clients?

No, we serve everyone who walks in our doors.

Must your attorney volunteers be Christians?

No, some of our best clinic attorneys are very open about the fact that they do not believe in Jesus or the bible. They like what we are doing and enjoy being part of it. We may match them with a law student or volunteer who is willing to address spiritual issues that may come up during the consultation.

How are you different from other legal aid entities?

In several ways. We are faith-based, we are a ministry. We partner with existing host ministries in the inner city neighborhoods where low-income people live. And clients see an attorney one-on-one.

Aren't other legal aid entities better equipped to do this work?

Yes, they are. We seek to learn from them and to meet areas of law that are unique to our neighborhoods which other legal non-profits are not meeting. The need is so great that there is not much danger of their being too much help. We refer matters to them and they refer matters to us.

How do you deal with the cultural divide between your attorneys and low-income inner city clients?

We are kind and caring and respectful. We follow the lead of our host ministry coordinators who are present clinic night. We seek to have attorneys present who share our client’s cultural background. We try to deal sensitively with the issues that will inevitably surface.

Can you use law students?

Yes, we have good relationships with students and faculty at all area law schools and seek to mentor law students and get them involved in our work. We also supply speakers to student groups.

Do you have a mentorship program?

Yes, we place younger attorneys with more experienced attorneys so they can learn an area of practice. With the state of the legal economy over the past few years, many young attorneys have had the time to volunteer and be mentored enabling them to learn and make contacts which help them get legal jobs.

What are your plans for the future?

2015 marks the fourth year of an ambitious five year strategic plan our board adopted in 2012. At that time we were an all-volunteer ministry with no office or staff. We had 12 attorneys who volunteered at two clinics. Now we have an office, a five person staff, 7 clinics which circle the city and 50 volunteer attorneys. Our vision is for our main office to be the hub of wheel that can support any number of clinics in areas of the city that are under-served legally. We also have plans to open regional poverty law offices to handle cases coming from clinics in each part of the city.

Where does your funding come from?

We do not charge clients or receive government funds. We are totally reliant on gifts from individuals and family foundations.

How do you choose host ministries?

We look for churches or community centers who are already changing lives in their neighborhoods, and who are partnering with networks of other ministries that can provide social and spiritual support for our clients. We look for places where our clients will be loved and well cared for.

Are volunteers covered by malpractice insurance?

Yes. All volunteers are covered for the work they do with us.

Do you provide training for volunteers?

Yes, we have online training, hands-on training, and regular live training sessions. Volunteers need to learn the basics of our case management system, Justice Center Online, and our on-line desk manual, which are password accessible. Our website and youtube channel is loaded with useful links.

How do clients schedule appointments?

They call 215-399-0064 and select which clinic they want to go to. The call is forwarded to the coordinator of that clinic who will speak to the client and put them on the schedule for the next clinic night.

Are you willing to open clinics in the suburbs too?

Yes, with gentrification and expansion of center city, the poor are being displaced to suburban pockets of poverty. We have opened a clinic in Chester to try to address this need.

How do you decide cases to take, or to refer?

We take cases where we feel an injustice would occur but for our representation, cases where we feel we can make a real difference in a client’s life. We take cases that we aren’t able to place with other counsel.