Philanthropy Crucial to Legal Aidís response to COVID-19 Pandemic, Client Needs

Last year, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland helped 16,710 people through 7,297 civil legal cases. Thousands more were helped through outreach and community legal education.  This success was not achieved alone. Legal Aid relies on collaboration: with the partner organizations who share Legal Aid materials with their communities; with the volunteer attorneys whose selfless support helps Legal Aid expand its bandwidth; and with the funders whose sponsorship not only maintains Legal Aid’s sustainability, but also fuels innovation as Legal Aid finds new ways to support low-income individuals and families struggling with civil legal challenges.

Innovation has proved essential to Legal Aid’s continuation of services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 16th, Legal Aid offices have been virtual, which its four buildings have been closed to the public and attorneys have been working remotely. The O'Neill Foundation, the Ohio Supreme Court, and the Ohio State Bar Foundation helped make this transition possible. 

In 2017, a $60,000 grant from the O’Neill Foundation’s Responsive Grantmaking initiative allowed Legal Aid to upgrade its case management system to LegalServer, a cloud-based case management system that Legal Aid staff use to document and facilitate their casework. This new system has streamlined administrative tasks, allowing more time and resources for legal assistance, outreach, and advocacy.  

In, 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court awarded Legal Aid a $40,000 grant to support the development of a new website to better serve client and improve access to justice. Legal Aid then worked with Recess Creative, a Cleveland-based agency, to completely transform www.lasclev.org. Today, site users can: apply for legal assistance; find answers to questions about common civil legal issues; download helpful resources; learn how the pandemic that has impacted public benefits, court proceedings, and workers' rights; and much more. The new site is also ADA and Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) accessible. 

With a $15,000 grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, Legal aid added an online intake portal to its new website. This allows potential clients to get in touch with Legal Aid 24/7. During the pandemic, this feature  changed from “convenient” to “essential”. 

One client Legal Aid helped recently is Faith. She receives a monthly stipend from Social Security on a Direct Express card due to developmental delays. Unfortunately, Faith became one of the many people impacted by Social Security fraud during COVID-19, and her Direct Express card was frozen. Soon after the freeze, Faith missed a rent payment. She also could not afford food, and received notice that her phone would soon be turned off. 

Thankfully, Faith was receiving treatment at St. Vincent, and their Medical-Legal Partnership with Legal Aid connected her with an attorney ready to revive the income to which she was entitled. During a global pandemic, Faith’s attorney was able to compel Social Security to unfreeze her card without anyone stepping foot in a court room.

While all four of its physical offices remain closed, Legal Aid continues to extend justice to people like Faith every day – thanks in large part to the generous support of funders.  

Do you need legal help?  Thanks to philanthropy, Legal Aid is open 24/7 with online intake at www.lasclev.org.  Or, call too apply for Legal Aid weekdays during most business hours: 216-687-1900.

Danilo Powell-Lima

Development and Communications Assistant at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 5:01 PM, 07.06.2020