Missy LaRocco, pro bono director at Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO), was supposed to head to Syracuse in New York for law school. Instead, she changed her plans to attend Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law when her grandpa became sick. Staying close to home to help her family was more important.

LaRocco’s selflessness and generosity permeate her life and career.

“In high school, I was the one that went and did bingo with the seniors on Thursday night, and I was running the Red Cross blood drive as an undergrad,” she said. “My passion is helping people.”

Her passion led her to legal aid, where six years ago, she transitioned from staff attorney at LAWO to pro bono director, a position that requires a great deal of “versatility and flexibility.” She engages pro bono attorneys to help fill the gaps in legal aid’s limited resources, connecting volunteers with opportunities to help clients at legal aid clinics, provide advice virtually, or through full representation.

In LAWO’s largely rural service area, LaRocco faces many challenges. A shortage of new attorneys settling in rural areas has increased the demand for existing attorneys, who in turn have less time to volunteer. With courts and clients spread out, volunteer attorneys face longer travel times, a further demand on their time. Still, she recruits hundreds of volunteers because she says, “In my opinion, the attorneys in rural counties are dynamite.”

“Rural county attorneys are used to handling a large case volume, and they have to be very versatile,” she said. “As volunteers, they’re willing to try new and different things, and they are more open to being flexible and figuring things out. They really have hearts of gold.”

During the pandemic, LaRocco has worked hard to adapt volunteer opportunities to fit COVID restrictions. While she acknowledges the benefits of virtual trainings and clinics, she can’t wait to get back to in-person clinics because of the camaraderie shared not just between the volunteers and the clients but between fellow attorneys.

“Not only are the attorneys giving help to people that need it, but they’re also building relationships with one another,” she said. “They’re helping people as a team, and it boosts the energy levels for the profession to feel that connection.”

In the meantime, LaRocco has paid even more attention to making sure each attorney has a good experience volunteering and feels the impact of their efforts. Her personalized outreach includes coordinating calls from the clients who tell the attorneys just how much their help has meant. After all, she sees her job as a full circle of support, from the client to the volunteer attorney.

“It’s about every client’s case, but it’s also about making society better,” she said. “It’s about making our communities better. It’s about making the legal profession better. It’s about having a justice system that is better for everyone. It’s all of that combined, and in the pro bono realm, I get to see it every day.”

Are you an attorney interested in volunteering with LAWO? Visit https://www.lawolaw.org/volunteer-opportunities/become-a-volunteer/.

October is Pro Bono Month and the Foundation is celebrating by highlighting the pro bono coordinators at each Ohio legal aid. Read the profiles.