Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is known for a robust pro bono program, where its students spend thousands of hours each year giving back to the local community while learning important lawyering and life skills. The C|M|LAW pro bono program is active year-round but October is a particularly energized time as students help in the community as part of Pro Bono Month.
In conjunction with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and local bar associations, C|M|LAW students had the opportunity to take part in over a dozen legal intake and advice clinics throughout Northeast Ohio in October. At the clinics, community members who may otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance are able to receive basic advice from lawyers with the assistances of law students. Students conduct the initial intake with the clients and then relay a summary of the client’s issues to volunteer attorneys who give clients professional advice.
Frank Triozzi, a 1L student at C|M|LAW, was heavily involved in Pro Bono Month, attending four legal advice clinics. At the job he held up until law school, travel requirements kept the community-minded Triozzi from participating in much volunteerism. He applied to Cleveland-Marshall because he knew the school has a strong reputation for pro bono work and he was looking for a more fulfilling career path.
“The clinics have been a really great experience,” said Triozzi. “The clinics are giving me a sense of fulfillment that were lacking at his previous job and assure me that I’m heading on the right path.”
For Triozzi, who has also gotten involved with pro bono program efforts at the Salvation Army Harbor Light Family Shelter and the 3Rs program, the initial hurdle with intake was asking personal questions of clients and “digging into parts of their life that that we generally wouldn’t be a part of.” The most beneficial aspect of clinics for him was sitting in on the attorney recommendations.
“The most hands-on experience I’ve had so far as a law student is when we’ve been able to sit in with the attorneys as they give clients advice,” said Triozzi. “You get to hear how the attorneys handle real-life issues. Being an attorney is so helpful in giving meaningful advice in these situations.”
For C|M|LAW 1L Sierra Nugent, the three clinics she volunteered at in October represent a very personal experience. There was a period of time during her undergraduate studies when she was without a home in Kansas City and could have easily found herself in need of such a free advice clinic.
“My life experience is why I do this volunteer work and why I am here in law school today,” explained Nugent. “I feel like a lot of the people in Cleveland who need assistance are just like me and I think when they are getting help from someone who looks like them and can relate to them that it makes clients more comfortable.”
This was the first time Nugent had interacted with clients, and from a law student’s perspective, she feels the direct contact with those individuals helped her learn how to be a better listener and more empathetic in a professional capacity. The time spent with practicing attorneys has given her new insights in how to think like a lawyer.
“There were times where my perspective was completely different from what the lawyer thought and they came up with ways to solve problems that never would have occurred to me. It was an eye-opening experience.” said Nugent.
For Nugent, like Triozzi, the clinics have helped confirm a desire to pursue public interest work as a long-term career path. For examples of how to make that a reality, law students volunteering at the clinics need to look no further than the attorneys they are paired with at the clinics, many of whom are Cleveland-Marshall graduates.
“So many of the attorneys our students work with at the clinics are Cleveland-Marshall alumni,” explained Pro Bono Program Director and Clinical Professor of Law Pamela Daiker-Middaugh. “It creates such a bond between the students doing volunteer work and the attorneys they are volunteering with. Their conversations almost always relate to Cleveland-Marshall.”