Paralegals at the seven Legal Assistance of Western New York locations didn’t receive the National Service Impact Award they were nominated for, but that does not mean their services are any less valuable to the clients they serve and the nonprofit civil legal service agency they work for.
“They are a critical part of our operation,” said Louis Prieto, managing attorney for Monroe County Legal Assistance Center. “They run our intake process and are the first people to talk to our clients.
LawNY has 24 AmeriCorps paralegals assisting attorneys at its offices in Rochester, Bath, Geneva, Elmira, Ithaca, Jamestown and Olean.
“They allow us to provide a lot more resources and deliver legal services to a greater extent for a lower cost,” Prieto explained.
Although the demand for services nearly always outweighs the resources to help disadvantaged people in the 14 counties LawNY serves, AmeriCorps paralegals have been instrumental in helping LawNY offices to meet the need. LawNY AmeriCorps paralegals worked over 40,000 hours in 2011, and assisted over 5,000 individuals and families in crisis. They commit to providing 1,700 hours of service.
The paralegals negotiate with landlords on behalf of individuals facing eviction, and represent clients at administrative hearings to obtain public benefits such as food stamps and unemployment insurance. It’s good experience for the paralegals, who in many cases are just beginning their professional career and receive only a low stipend and educational benefits for their work. The paralegals are direct client advocates, responsible for their own caseloads and also conduct outreach events to educate service providers.
“They have been … supportive in letting me combine my interests,” said Miriam Moore, one of four AmeriCorps paralegals in the Rochester office.
“The workload our paralegals handle would be daunting for many veteran attorneys, but that does not stop our volunteers from going above and beyond their duties to help our clients,” said Keith McCafferty, managing attorney for the Geneva office of LawNY. “We wouldn’t have the funding to hire these paralegals if this project was not available.”
“It’s different than being a volunteer or a paid staff person,” said Marilyn Rosche, director of Rochester AmeriCorps, which hires 45 AmeriCorps members to work for local criminal justice agencies and programs, provide education and youth services, drug and pregnancy prevention and a host of other city services.
On Monday, the Corporation for National and Community Service announced Rochester AmeriCorps would receive $580,000 to fund the program. Agencies that employ AmeriCorps members provide matching money and/or services.
“An agency pays $6,000 for a full time person for one year,” Rosche explained. “It’s the best buy in town and a very sellable idea. These people are real go-getters — highly motivated people. Site supervisors say they we couldn’t do the work we do without them.”
The Rochester AmeriCorps program is sponsored by Monroe Community College and run out of the downtown Damon City Campus. The affiliation with MCC has been beneficial for both AmeriCorps and MCC. AmeriCorps workers receive educational awards for their service and have redeemed over $1 million at MCC over the course of the program, which began in 1994.
Rochester AmeriCorps is currently recruiting workers for a one-year commitment. More information may be found on their website at rochesteramericorps.org.
AmeriCorps paralegals at LawNY are funded through the state Division of Family Services, which submits funding grant applications to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Most AmeriCorps workers are new college graduates from the Rochester area but some have advanced degrees, some come from all over the United States and some remain in the program for an allowable second or third year.