Ken Mirkin, managing attorney of Community Legal Aid’s Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP), understands the pro bono experience because he’s been there. In 2010, Mirkin started his legal aid career as a volunteer, helping low-income northeast Ohioans navigate the foreclosure crisis.
“I was really drawn to helping people stay in their homes,” he said. “It set the tone for me to want to continue to work with legal aid.”
After joining legal aid full time, Mirkin spent several years as a staff attorney and as an Equal Justice Works Americorps Fellow. In 2018, he moved from managing clients’ day-to-day needs to managing pro bono attorneys’ day-to-day needs as a member of Community Legal Aid’s VLSP team. His years of experience as a legal aid attorney prepared him for his new role.
“It benefitted me to start where I did, litigating and having a large number of cases,” Mirkin said. “It gave me insight into how many people were struggling and how if it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t have an attorney. It opened my eyes to the justice gap.”
Now, as managing attorney of VLSP, Mirkin helps identify opportunities to partner with private attorneys on specific projects that help supplement legal aid’s resources to better meet the community’s needs. One such need is engaging pro bono attorneys to help Ohioans with criminal records get back in the workforce.
“We thought, let’s see if we can help people out with eligible convictions that may be 10 to 15 years old, convictions that have nothing to do with the kind of person they are today, but that are really holding them back,” Mirkin said.
Goodyear, a major corporation headquartered in Akron, turned out to be the perfect partner. During a regular monthly clinic, Goodyear’s corporate counsel volunteer to help clients determine their eligibility for record sealing and assist them in filling out the forms they need to file. In true pandemic style, the attorneys meet with clients over Zoom, maximizing convenience for the volunteers. The partnership is a tremendous success, with more than 200 clients served and many Goodyear attorneys returning month after month to volunteer.
Mirkin thinks the pandemic and the resulting shift to virtual assistance has transformed pro bono. He anticipates a greater focus on limited services and the continuation of virtual advice, even after the pandemic ends. Ultimately, he hopes the shift will result in serving more people.
“I think at the very least, if you’re going through the court system, you should have someone there to provide, if not representation, then at least someone to let you know what your options are,” Mirkin said. “It’s about trying to make sure we can help a person get as close as possible to a level playing field.”
Are you an attorney interested in volunteering with Community Legal Aid? Visit https://www.communitylegalaid.org/vlsp.
October is Pro Bono Month and the Foundation is celebrating by highlighting the pro bono coordinators at each Ohio legal aid. Read the profiles.