Although second-year Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Justice for All Fellow Julia Lauritzen was excited to begin her fellowship at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland last fall, she wasn’t sure exactly how it would go, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I came in with vague expectations,” Lauritzen said. “But I think I envisioned having more of a physical presence at the [Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s] office. The pandemic changed that.”

Instead of building relationships in person, Lauritzen interacts with clients mostly via phone or Zoom. She receives client referrals from the Cuyahoga County Public Defender when there’s an indication that they have civil legal issues that are either pre-existing or compounded by their experience with the criminal justice system. The referral process accomplishes the main objective of Lauritzen’s fellowship, which is to grow a partnership between legal aid and the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s office to provide holistic legal support for clients.

It took some time and planning to get the partnership up and running, but Lauritzen found a collaborative and helpful partner in the Public Defender’s office. Now, with the partnership well established, Lauritzen receives a steady stream of referrals.

Cases involving driver’s license suspensions make up a substantial portion of the referrals.

“It wasn’t an issue I anticipated to be getting a lot of case referrals for,” Lauritzen said. “But it’s been surprising to learn about the many ways a client’s driver’s license can be suspended and the barriers it can create for them further down the line.”

Lauritzen also handles immigration cases. Gaining experience in immigration law has helped refine her research skills regarding complex immigration issues and the ramifications for clients.

“For folks who aren’t citizens, there are many potential consequences for criminal convictions,” she said. “So [the Cuyahoga County Public Defender] will refer clients to me, and then I can research and advise on what some of the immigration consequences could be for that case.”

One of her proudest accomplishments so far is beginning and growing the relationship with the Public Defender under the unusual circumstances of COVID.

“Starting from scratch and setting up a process that works and that we can continue to learn from is definitely the biggest achievement,” Lauritzen said.

In the future, Lauritzen wants to continue learning how criminal and civil cases are connected and the best way to address them.

“There’s more to be learned and figuring out what works best to resolve these issues,” she said.

The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation funds law school graduates with a passion for public service to address urgent legal problems facing Ohioans. Meet the Justice for All Fellows.