The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Paralegals who work with clients experiencing crises, such as severe injury, loss of employment, bankruptcy or domestic troubles, often find themselves offering additional support outside of “billable” work or traditional legal tasks. With the worsening economic climate in our country, it is more important than ever that legal professionals be aware of their clients’ needs and help direct their clients to appropriate government, private and community resources. These clients are already relying on a law firm to guide them through a traumatic period and may not be thinking clearly or know where else to go for assistance.
Informed and caring paralegals can help by providing clients with contact information for agencies which provide assistance to individuals and/or families in crises, including (but not limited to):
- Employment Security Commission to apply for unemployment benefits (if eligible), vocational counseling and access to the jobs bank
- Social Security Administration to apply for SSD, SSI, Medicare or other types of benefits
- Department of Social Services to apply for food stamps, Medicaid or other assistance
- Consumer Credit Counseling to work with creditors or make a decision about bankruptcy
- Legal Aid for assistance with landlord/tenant or domestic issues
- State division of vocational rehabilitation services, GoodWill Industries, community colleges or other local return-to-work programs to obtain assistance in locating jobs or re-training for a different career
- City/County health department and/or mental health agencies which provide medical and counseling services to individuals with minimal or no insurance
- Local agencies, including churches and other privately-funded social services, which provide food pantries, clothing, meals, emergency assistance with rent and utilities or temporary shelter
- Government websites which offer practical and clear advice for consumers, such as the Federal Trade Commission which has excellent and easy-to-read resources for foreclosure (www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/homes/rea04.shtm) or identity theft (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/) (Paralegals can print a copy for clients without computer access).
Keeping a list of contact information for these agencies is a good idea.
Sometimes just taking the time to listen to clients reassures them, and helps them think more clearly to develop a plan to resolve issues themselves. Being supportive, open-minded and empathetic will help both the client and paralegal thoughtfully and carefully work through the most important issues and explore available resources. Sometimes you may feel a little like an unlicensed counselor and social worker, but at the end of the day, it feels good to know that you and your firm went the “extra mile” to help a client in need.
Additional comments from readers for ideas to go that “extra mile” for clients are welcome.