Home / Expert Opinion / Pro Bono Spotlight: VLSP paralegals contribute their talents to client success

Pro Bono Spotlight: VLSP paralegals contribute their talents to client success

Team work. Talking with the two paralegals at Volunteer Legal Services Project of Rochester, it is readily evident that they work closely with VLSP attorneys, pro bono volunteer attorneys, and the clients seeking VLSP services. The sense of team work is almost palpable.

Dedication to the clients is the second trait that comes through loud and clear in conversation and emails. If you’ve met or worked with Ariana Bauza or Pauline Smith on a VLSP case, you already knew that.

Caring and career-minded are other adjectives that aptly describe these women.

“Skilled, efficient and compassionate” are additional terms tossed out by VLSP Executive Director Sheila Gaddis. “And crucial to serving our clients,” she added.

Pauline Smith

Pauline Smith looks on as Christa Hibbard shares VLSP documents. Since each works at the Seventh Judicial District Help Center on alternating shifts, they aren’t always in the office together. Nora A. Jones

Pauline Smith looks on as Christa Hibbard shares VLSP documents. Since each works at the Seventh Judicial District Help Center on alternating shifts, they aren’t always in the office together. Nora A. Jones

Smith started at VLSP in October 2013

“I love the fact that my job allows me to see that I am making a real-world positive difference for our clients,” she explained. “When a VLSP client wins a case that you assisted them on, there are real world benefits to that client. If a client is awarded unemployment benefits, they can buy food. If a client files for bankruptcy, they can achieve freedom from debt.”

Smith came to VLSP with eight years of paralegal experience at Relin, Goldstein & Crane, earning her paralegal degree from Monroe Community College in 2005. She also has a master’s degree in English from SUNY Brockport.

She decided to seek paralegal training after watching a speech by Erin Brockovich and becoming fascinated with environmental law. As she went through paralegal school, she discovered she also enjoyed consumer law.

Smith primarily works with Christa Hibbard at VLSP, including helping to staff the 7th Judicial District Help Center at the Hall of Justice. She also helps coordinate VLSP debt clinics, usually held 4 times a year.

“Pauline is a quick learner, is eager to help out in any way she can, and is impressively organized,” Hibbard said. “The knowledge she brings from working in a creditor firm has been invaluable, most noticeably at the Help Center. After working at Relin Goldstein, she is very familiar with the procedures involved on both sides of creditor’s work, and is able to help debtors facing collection efforts.”

Smith is originally from Geneva and enjoys writing about upstate New York. She is currently working on a book of essays, and has had previous pieces published. She also keeps busy caring for her 13-month old son.

Ariana Bauza

Ariana Abauza gets briefed on one of the family court matters she is working on with Marlene Attardo. Nora A. Jones

Ariana Abauza gets briefed on one of the family court matters she is working on with Marlene Attardo. Nora A. Jones

Earning her associates degree in Paralegal Studies from Bryant & Stratton College in 2012, Bauza spent an internship at the Monroe County Family Court. She had hands on experience with the administrative and procedural side of Family Court, and got to sit in courtrooms with judges and referees.

“Since graduating, I fell into my dream job at VLSP,” Bauza said. “I work in the Family Law Practice Area at VLSP and my job consists primarily of client interaction.”

She admits that family law can be very emotional. As a mother of three, she understands the heartache involved in many family court cases. Her bilingual skills further enhance her ability to comfort clients and help them work through issues that have felt overwhelming.

“I try my best to make clients comfortable and hopefully take some weight off their shoulders,” Bauza said, later admitting that her favorite part of the job is to see her clients smile and sometimes give her a hug.

She primarily works with Mary Beth Conway and Marlene Attardo.

“She has been a breath of fresh air since she stepped through the doors of VLSP,” noted Conway, who heads the VLSP Family Law Practice Area.

“Ariana treats all VLSP clients with the utmost respect and follows through with answers to the many questions they typically have,” Conway continued. “As a result, our clients feel comfortable coming to her with questions or concerns. As an added bonus, she is bilingual and able to communicate on a higher level with our Latino population.”

Bauza’s family moved to Rochester from the Bronx while she was a teen. She remains close to her family, and talks about family activities as a focal point of her non-work hours.

MCC partnership

The Monroe Community College Law & Criminal Justice Department offers a Paralegal Studies Certificate Program. To be accepted into the program, students must have at least a 2-or 4-year degree. To complete the program, students need at least 75 hours of intern experience.

Elizabeth Clifford, who is the director of the MCC Paralegal Studies Program, has worked with VLSP’s Gaddis as a member of the Paralegal Studies Advisory Board. Together, they have created a partnership so MCC students can earn internship credit for pro bono work by volunteering in the VLSP pro se divorce clinic.

“It’s an opportunity for paralegal students to talk to clients, learn basic client intake skills, and test the waters for specific types of legal community work,” Clifford explained. “Of the 75 hours of internship they must complete, 7.5 hours must be on a pro bono basis, and VLSP offers true hands on experience.”

Clifford went on to explain that the paralegal candidates are encouraged to find internships directly aligned with their goals. For example, if they want real estate law in a suburban firm, they should look there for internships. If the big firm environment is attractive, seek experience there.

“The VLSP experience is absolutely invaluable to students,” Clifford said. “Very few other employers provide the kind of direct client contact offered through VLSP’s pro se divorce clinics.”

Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County announced its “Honor Roll” of attorneys and paralegals who recently took cases or staffed clinics.

January 2014 Honor Roll

Solo practitioners: Michelle Boyle; Paloma Capanna; June Castellano; Mark Drexler; Byrgen Finkelman; Deborah Indivino; Sylvia Josh; Michael Lingle; John McQueen; Robert Nicolais; Gilbert Perez; Maureen Pineau; Ann Pfeiffer; Lisa Sadinsky; Robert Stiles; Paul Watkins; Robert Turner; Sandra Williams

Attorneys and paralegals at firms: Bruce Lawrence (Boylan Code); Julia Hall (Empire Justice Center); Timothy Ingersoll (Fero & Ingersoll); Ernest Ferullo (Gates & Adams); James Beyer (Harris Beach LLP); Laura Smalley (Harris Beach LLP); Natanya DeWeese (Hiscock & Barclay LLP); Patrick Sheldon(Hiscock & Barclay LLP); Christina Shifton(Hiscock & Barclay LLP); Joseph Sroka(Hiscock & Barclay LLP); Kevin Johnson (Klafehn, Heise & Johnson PLLC); David McKnight (Lacy Katzen, LLP); Jeremy Sher (Leclair Korona Giordano Cole LLP); Cheri Fiordeliso (Littler Mendelson Paralegal); Jo Ann Butler (Nixon Peabody); Dwight Collin(Nixon Peabody); Thomas Farace (Nixon Peabody); Patrice Morrison (Nixon Peabody); Brittany Simon (Nixon Peabody); Hope Olsson (Olsson & Feder, LLP); Derrick Spatarico (Pheterson Spatarico LLP); Jodie Ryan (Philips Lytle LLP); Steve Feder (Pirrello Missal Personte & Feder); Gail Norris (University of Rochester Office of Counsel); Bonnie Brooks (Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP Paralegal).

— Photos by Nora A. Jones

Nora A. Jones is a freelance writer with long-term ties to The Daily Record and Thomson Reuters. She can be reached at njones01@rochester.rr.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*