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On any given day, LSV’s lawyers and paralegals might help someone get heat back on in their apartment or find emergency housing, help a senior reclaim their lost Social Security benefits, help a domestic violence survivor get protective orders from the court, or help a family navigate the eviction or bankruptcy process.
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A new report from The University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies shares data about an in-court legal help program operated by Legal Services Vermont (LSV). The report discusses the positive impact of having legal aid and volunteer lawyers available for free at Vermont courts during eviction hearings.
“We helped so many people who would not normally have access to a lawyer at a pivotal time in their cases and their lives,” said project director Margaret Frye of Legal Services Vermont. “I look forward to that work continuing in the future.”
The report estimates about 70% of all landlords have a lawyer to represent them at in eviction case in Vermont. Prior to this program in Rutland County, Vermont, only 13% of tenants had legal representation. In 2019 during this program, 69% of tenants were represented in Rutland County.
When lawyers represented the tenants, more cases were settled and the cases lasted for a shorter period of time. This led to less stress and better outcomes for the tenants who often were not aware of their rights.
The program helped low-income clients avoid eviction from their homes.
This program was created when Legal Services Vermont received Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants from the Legal Services Corporation. Because affordable housing is so scarce in Vermont, preventing evictions has been a priority for LSV for years. The grants provided an important opportunity for Vermonters who usually represent themselves in court against opponents who are more likely to be represented by attorneys.
Through this program, LSV helped low-income clients avoid evictions by increasing the number of active pro bono attorneys available to help them. Working with the Civil Division court, LSV provided volunteer attorneys for tenants facing eviction in Addison, Chittenden, Rutland and Windham Counties. LSV's sister organization, Vermont Legal Aid, was also able to offer same-day legal assistance in rent escrow hearings in other counties under less structured settings.
“I am proud of the work the volunteer lawyers and staff at Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid put into making these clinics successful,” Frye said.
To serve an extraordinary increase in need for civil legal aid across the state, Legal Services Vermont (LSV) hired six new staff members recently. The new attorneys and paralegals help Vermonters tackle issues such as renting, eviction, public benefits, relief from abuse, and debt — often brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. New staff members include:
Paralegal Mark Hengstler. He previously worked as an advocate at the Vermont Office of the Health Care Advocate.
Legal intern Rachel Jones. She is a 2020 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.
Paralegal Meredith Mason. She is a 2020 graduate of American University.
Attorney Bradley Showman. He previously worked as a legal aid attorney with Legal Services of Northern California.
Paralegal Renee Vigneau. She previously worked as a paralegal at Barber & Waxman in Burlington.
Attorney Ruthie Welch. She previously worked as an associate attorney at Cozen O’Connor’s Chicago office.
Legal Services Vermont is a nonprofit legal services law firm based in Burlington that annually serves thousands of Vermonters from all corners of the state. Funded by the Legal Services Corporation and donations, LSV is the partner organization to Vermont Legal Aid.
For civil (not criminal) legal help, visit LSV’s legal help website at VTLawHelp.org or call 1-800-889-2047.
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced that Legal Services Vermont will receive a $375,970 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant. LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund is intended to encourage and expand pro bono efforts and partnerships to serve more low-income clients.
Legal Services Vermont will use the grant to build a coordinated, centralized and sustainable infrastructure for statewide pro bono efforts in Vermont. It will collaborate with key stakeholders to develop and implement a robust statewide pro bono system using best practices for recruitment, flexible volunteer venues and effective data tracking to expand access to justice for low-income families in the state.
“Pro bono assistance enables Legal Services Vermont to leverage its limited government-funded staff resources with privately contributed services,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “This grant will promote this leverage and help Legal Services Vermont to assist many more people in need.”
Members of the Vermont congressional delegation congratulated Legal Services of Vermont on the grant.
“Legal Services Vermont is most deserving of this award, and it could not have come at a more critical time,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT). “The COVID pandemic has upended the lives of thousands of Vermonters, and those who suddenly find themselves in need of pro bono legal help should be able to get it. With this funding, LSV will work to create a more comprehensive system to meet the urgent needs of low-income Vermonters. We know that investing in these programs saves money in the long run. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’m proud to support the essential work of the Legal Services Corporation and the state programs it supports.”
“Proper legal representation is a part of the foundation of a just and equal society,” said Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large). “Quality legal representation has become harder to provide during the coronavirus pandemic, just as many Vermonters face higher medical bills, trouble with public assistance or trouble paying their mortgage. In these difficult times, it is more important than ever to make sure that Vermonters receive quality legal representation, regardless of where they live or how much money they have. I applaud the work of LSC and Legal Services Vermont to offer Vermonters the representation that they are entitled to, free of charge.”
Legal Services Vermont is one of 19 recipients of Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants totaling $4,347,185. Eleven legal aid organizations are receiving new grants to significantly expand their pro bono efforts and eight current Pro Bono Innovation Fund grantees are receiving supplemental funding to continue their efforts to transform pro bono delivery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
LSC awarded these grants from its $4.5 million Pro Bono Innovation Fund included in its FY 2020 congressional appropriation. The creation of the fund was recommended by LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force in 2012. This is the seventh year LSC has received a designated appropriation to award pro bono grants. In all, LSC has awarded 102 grants totaling more than $27.8 million.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid are not seeing any walk-in clients at this time. Please do not come to one of our offices. A sign will be posted saying our doors are locked and we are working remotely. Please use our helpline phone number or online form to reach us for help.
(If you are a current client who made a specific appointment with one of our staff members, please confirm your appointment before coming.)
Thank you for understanding as we follow recommendations from health officials and we work to lessen the impact of the coronavirus in our communities!
Legal Services Vermont seeks to engage a qualified vendor to develop a total of 13 short videos to explain the law in five different legal areas and demonstrate the legal process. The videos will demonstrate how Vermonters can handle a legal problem on their own. The videos will be an integral part of five online self-help “Classrooms” being developed by LSV. Learn about the RFP.
Vermonters face broad and substantial unmet civil legal needs. These needs are present across the entire spectrum of civil legal subject areas — including family law, housing, healthcare, public benefits, debt and more. This statewide study reviewed a broad range of objective and subjective data to determine the most persistent areas of unmet civil legal need in the state. Follow this link to read the report.
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced on October 10, 2019, that Legal Services Vermont will receive a $152,266 Technology Initiative Grant to improve its use of technology in assisting low-income individuals with civil legal needs.
Legal Services Vermont will use the grant to create more online content for self-represented litigants at VTLawHelp.org. The organization will add tutorials for high-demand legal issues, including temporary restraining orders in domestic violence cases. The expanded library of online tutorials will feature a series of instructional videos informing viewers how to fill out court forms or initiate certain legal actions.
“LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants increase access to justice for low-income people with critical civil legal needs,” said LSC President Jim Sandman. “These technology projects improve the delivery of legal services and information to the millions of Americans who would otherwise have to navigate the legal system alone.”
Senator Patrick Leahy congratulated Legal Services Vermont on the award. “Fundamental fairness and justice require that access to legal services should not be limited only to those who can afford a lawyer,” Sen. Leahy said. “This grant will support the critical work of Legal Services Vermont, whose website alone connects thousands of low-income Vermonters to the information they need when faced with civil legal challenges. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am proud to support the work of Legal Services Corporation as they help those in need navigate our justice system.”
Legal Services Vermont is one of 30 recipients of LSC’s 2019 Technology Initiative Grant funding. Established in 2000, the Technology Initiative Grants program supports legal aid organizations in developing and replicating technologies that improve efficiency and provide greater access to high-quality legal assistance.