I am in the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), the Chicago Bar Foundation’s incubator program enabling new attorneys to start law practices, serving unmet legal needs. I am starting a law practice for people with disabilities and their families, as well as advancing the Civil Rights of all people. Before volunteering at CARPLS (a legal assistance hotline in Chicago) through JEP, my past supervising attorneys shielded me from client contact because of my speech impediment. At first, I was concerned, not with whether I could communicate with CARPLS clients effectively since I have a translator, but if clients would be reluctant to work with me because of my disability. Fortunately, out of my past 34 volunteer hours, I have only had one client who became irate at having to communicate with me, which was ironically after my conveying information that she did not want to hear. CARPLS has been very accommodating of my disability: finding ways that both my assistant and I can use headsets to communicate with clients and for me to enter information into their systems with my assistive technology. My acquaintances are astonished that I am volunteering for a legal assistance hotline.
I appreciate my time volunteering at CARPLS, gaining more substantial client intake and direct service experience. Since I plan to integrate virtual law and online legal services in my practice, it is nice to get exposed to the cutting edge of legal service technology with CARPLS’ client intake and service management system. While we cannot solve every problem, it feels good to empower clients to write self-help letters and to be able to reassure clients that they have at least a few more days or until the end of the weekend before the sheriff comes to evict them. Volunteering for CARPLS has also been an unsuspecting source of mentors; I found seasoned solo practice attorneys in CARPLS staff and volunteers. I recommend volunteering at a legal assistance hotline to get exposed to various legal areas and communicating with clients, as well as connecting with other attorneys, for both attorneys with and without speech impediments.
Originally written for the CBA Record.