Lessons from the Field – An Interview with Elizabeta Markuci
Are you interested in volunteering? We recently spoke with Elizabeta Markuci, Director of the Immigration Project at Volunteers of Legal Service. Elizabeta recruits, trains, and supports volunteer attorneys in New York City. We discussed ways that pro bono attorneys can help deferred action applicants.
IAN: What are your recommendations for volunteer attorneys who want to help with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?
EM: You have to think about your skills and your time. What can you offer? Are you already an experienced immigration lawyer, or do you want to learn a whole new area of law? If you are not experienced, you need to connect to a mentoring attorney, or an organization that trains volunteers.
IAN: How can a volunteer attorney get started?
EM: Volunteers should partner with nonprofit legal service providers, law schools, community-based organizations, local bar associations, or the public schools. If you are going to do outreach or provide pro bono services, you need to come with some link to a reputable service.
IAN: What kind of help can attorneys provide?
EM: They could help with screenings, mentor new attorneys, agree to take a pro bono case, or provide information about the law and eligibility.
IAN: How can an attorney approach the schools?
EM: Well, some school districts could use help understanding the law, and what kind of documents will meet the evidentiary requirements. Some schools need to simplify their process for requesting documents. An attorney could get that form down to one page, or create a template for clients to make the document requests.
IAN: What do you think volunteer lawyers need to keep in mind, when working with possible applicants for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?
EM: I think lawyers need to screen for more than Deferred Action. For some people, this is their first encounter with an attorney. It is almost a disservice if you fail to look at the other possibilities. And I think people should be strategic about applying. Some should wait and see what happens if there is a new Administration. What about kids or families with old removal orders? "Absconders" have not been considered low priority for removal, in the past. Others may have nothing to lose, or are under a lot of pressure to have work authorization. I am also worried that people will be very tempted to fit into the eligibility requirements. Attorneys should strongly warn people about the risk of applying if they do not meet the qualifications. I am also worried that people who should not apply will apply anyway. Sometimes I have to meet with a client a number of times before he or she tells me about an encounter with the criminal system. Lawyers need to ask repeatedly about criminal history.
IAN: How does volunteering fit in with private practice?
EM: At Volunteers of Legal Services, we have volunteers sign a "best practices" agreement. This is not an opportunity to shill for paying clients. An attorney could agree to take a pro bono case, or do some volunteer work, and let the organization know that he or she is accepting referrals. Some clients will be able to afford legal services, and we need good referrals. In the long term, volunteering is good for a practice - when that family needs future legal services, they may look for you later.
For more information about Volunteers of Legal Service, visit www.volsprobono.org.
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