Providing Legal Aid Services in a PandemicFiled under General
Five months ago, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada was providing in-person services at four different locations (Civil Law Self Help Center, Family Law Self Help Center, Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, and the main building) helping with requests such as responding to debt collection cases, evictions, TPO applications, consumer fraud issues and much more.
By March 16, 2020, Legal Aid Center had quickly shifted in-person assistance at each of these facilities to remote services, utilizing hotlines, new email addresses, and relying more on social media to share legal updates and new programs designed to help the community in need. While those locations had to be shut down to public access due to the pandemic, our operations continued.
Embracing the Unexpected
The COVID-19 crisis required us to rapidly innovate delivery of our client services. Within a couple of weeks, we invested in new laptops and software, redesigned our phone system, moving from in-person assistance to phone, web, and email services to serve clients seamlessly. We also trained our staff on how to work remotely. We maneuvered through these changes as the numbers of requests for services increased. Many of the calls came from out of work tenants desperate for help dealing with their landlords and from individuals struggling with unemployment.
We knew we could not simply stop operations because of COVID-19. Rather, we embraced the challenging situation we (and the world) suddenly found ourselves in. That meant taking necessary steps to continue providing top quality legal services. We knew from our experience with the Great Recession and the mass shooting tragedy of October 1, that financial issues spiral into legal issues. When we saw COVID-19’s impact on Nevada’s businesses and tourism industry, we realized that the demand for services would increase.
Legal Aid is Expanding with New Resources
We created a Legal and Financial Toolkit with links and resources for food insecurity, utility contacts, eviction and foreclosure information, federal assistance updates, and unemployment information among others. It is updated continuously and available in Spanish. The toolkit is on our website at www.lacsn.org/COVID-19.
When victims of domestic violence were no longer able to access the Family Court in person, our Family Law Self-Help Center, in partnership with the Eighth Judicial District Court, redesigned the temporary protection order application process. Within 48 hours, services were transformed. Applications for temporary protection orders can now be completed by phone and email with a hearing scheduled on the same day. By mid-May, domestic violence victims had another tool at their fingertips with an easy to use guided online interview for TPO applications. While this tool had been in development before the pandemic, the release date was quite timely.
Our Education Advocacy Program continued assisting low-income families with children struggling to obtain the services needed to succeed in school. Our education advocates also work with youth in Clark County’s foster care system who need someone to speak up for their education rights. When the Clark County School District began distance learning due to COVID-19, we knew students with special education needs would suffer and be at risk of falling behind.
We partner with the William S. Boyd School of Law on community education classes and collectively we decided to offer a new class in the Fall to educate parents and guardians about their child’s education rights. Topics covered include how to get a student qualified for special education services, help requesting the school abide by an existing special education plan, help with distance learning and discipline issues and more. This weekly class will be taught by law school students and supervised by Legal Aid Center’s lead education attorney. The class starts on August 31, 2020.
Evolving to Meet the Need
Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada is preparing for a tsunami of legal needs coming our way once the eviction moratorium is lifted and high unemployment continues to affect our community. We expect an influx of individuals and families contacting our office with foreclosures, bankruptcy, other consumer related issues, and evictions, including a new eviction mediation program.
To help prepare for this wave, Legal Aid Center attorneys and staff trained community partners on foreclosure issues to better assist homeowners who are behind with their mortgage payments. We partnered with pro bono attorneys on a series of virtual town halls addressing evictions, consumer questions, and small business issues related to the pandemic.
We established the Small Business Legal Advice Project, which pairs pro bono attorneys with eligible business owners for free legal advice to help the businesses stay afloat. We are also participating in a pilot program with community partners to help families in the child welfare system overcome domestic violence issues. This is especially needed right now when families are stuck at home with mounting pressures due to health and housing issues, lack of employment and reduced wages.
Established in 1958, the mission of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada is the preservation of access to justice and the provision of quality legal counsel, advice and representation for individuals who are unable to protect their rights because they cannot afford an attorney. We are a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization with 151 employees and 75 attorneys. You can learn more about what we do and who we help at www.lacsn.org.
Paul Padda Law is a proud sponsor of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Community Justice Fellowship.
Christine Miller, Esq.
Director of Community Initiatives and Outreach
Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Inc.