Connecting Central Ohioans to resources that encourage and help them advocate for themselves is one of the things that Legal Aid Society of Columbus Pro Bono Coordinator Kayla Callahan loves most about working at legal aid.
But as passionate as she is now, Callahan was not always sure of the career path she would take. During her undergraduate years at Amherst College, she majored in law, jurisprudence, and social thought. She loved her major but was not sure what she wanted to do with it.
“It was a very liberal arts degree,” Callahan said. “We were reading case law, looking at how neighborhoods and districts were mapped, and thinking about how society and people impacted how we see and interact with the world.”
Despite her piqued interest in the topics, she didn’t think she would become an attorney until she came across the alternative dispute resolution program at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Through the program, Callahan saw the many ways she could make a difference through the law.
“It opened my eyes to different types of practice and different ways to be in the legal field and serve the community without necessarily being the one that goes into court,” she said.
After law school, Callahan had a fellowship with the Franklin County Municipal Court. She helped create the Self-Help Resource Center, a free walk-in service to help individuals represent themselves in court without a lawyer.
Though Callahan could not give legal advice at the center, she was able to help connect people to resources to pursue their cases across several areas of law, including housing and criminal record sealing.
“I enjoyed being able to help people with resources, provide information, and help them learn so they could walk out and be able to advocate for themselves,” she said.
Callahan then gained some experience in direct-case handling as a staff attorney on the public benefits team at The Legal Aid Society of Columbus. But she saw more of her strength in helping individuals navigate the systems and processes that were difficult to understand.
“That’s what led me towards the pro bono position and out of direct case handling — with an opportunity to work with all our volunteers and really inspire them and give them the confidence to do the work we all know they can do,” she said.
Callahan believes every bit of work that volunteers can contribute helps, even if it doesn’t seem like it or if the client has other problems that they can’t solve.
“As long as you’re doing what you do in your normal work, being responsible, doing your research, asking questions, and following up, it’ll be okay,” she said. “Every step is important and impactful.”
Are you an attorney interested in volunteering with The Legal Aid Society of Columbus? Visit https://www.columbuslegalaid.org/get-involved/attorney/attorney-pro-bono-application/
October is Pro Bono Month and the Foundation is celebrating by highlighting the pro bono coordinators at each Ohio legal aid. Read the profiles.