ATLANTA—Since launching last year, the Center for Access to Justice’s Pro Bono Program has already earned several awards, and it continues to grow. The program works with partner organizations to connect GSU law students with volunteer opportunities to address low-income people’s unmet legal needs. In just the last year and a half, the Pro Bono Program has facilitated more than 1400 hours of student pro bono service under the supervision of practicing attorneys in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.
As of January 2019, students have the option of volunteering with three new projects. On select Mondays, students can assist with the Bankruptcy Assistance Program in the Northern District of Georgia. Every other Tuesday, the Atlanta Public Defender Office’s Homeless Legal Project welcomes student volunteers. And Mondays and Fridays, you can find GSU Law students helping with Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s Transgender Name Change Project.
Director of Pro Bono Legal Services at Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Laurie Rashidi-Yazd, is enthusiastic about welcoming GSU Law students to the Transgender Name Change Project. “In this project, client advocacy can be as simple as accompanying a client to court to ensure justice is delivered. While it is clear under the law that an individual may change his/her/their name, some clients are subjected to an additional level of scrutiny that is invasive and beyond the scope of the law because of their gender. This project provides clients the assurance that they will be treated fairly and justly with the assistance of a well-trained advocate.”
Under the supervision of the Atlanta Public Defender’s Office, students can volunteer at a homeless legal project run out of the Community Ministries Program at First Presbyterian Church. Every other Tuesday, students meet with homeless and low-income participants to conduct client intake and interviews under the guidance of the Atlanta Public Defender’s Office. Peter Nielsen (J.D. ’19) was the project’s first GSU volunteer. “You definitely see a ton of potential legal and non-legal issues the homeless deal with,” Neilsen said of his experience. “The supervising attorney felt comfortable letting me jump in and direct some questioning. It was great.”
Veeda Mashayekh (J.D. ’21) recently signed up for an upcoming session with the Northern District of Georgia Bankruptcy Assistance Program. Working alongside volunteer attorneys and under the supervision of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Mashayekh will gain experience talking to clients. “I am excited to gain hands-on experience with transactional law side-by-side with attorneys, so I can broaden my professional skills,” Mashayekh said.
In addition to these new projects, students can work with tenants facing eviction, help write bond motions for detained immigrants, work with veterans to secure benefits, assist with citizenship applications, or provide estate planning assistance to elderly clients.
“It’s exciting to see the Pro Bono Program growing so much and in such a short period of time,” said Darcy Meals, Center Assistant Director and faculty supervisor of the Program. “We are fortunate that our organizational partners have been so welcoming to GSU and enthusiastic about the students’ contributions. As we grow, we really want to be responsive to student interest and community need in adding new opportunities.”
The Program currently partners with Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, the GSU Veteran’s Assistance Project, the International Rescue Committee, the Atlanta Public Defender’s Office, and the Fulton County Superior Court’s Housing Court Assistance Center. To learn more and to sign up, visit law.gsu.edu/probono