Every day, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS) Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Vargas Vegas is amazed at the grit and tenacity of the private attorneys who commit to pro bono service.
“The fact that they find time out of their busy lives to do pro bono work while having a full-time job is amazing. They’re wonderful people,” Vargas Vegas said.
Vargas Vegas recalled a situation when she urgently needed a pro bono attorney for a client who was in desperate need of help at the time.
“I emailed a few of the attorneys who are always generous with their time and explained that I didn’t want to reschedule the client’s appointment because they really needed help,” Vargas Vegas said. “And one of the attorneys immediately responded and said, ‘I’m on vacation, but I’ll be more than happy to help tonight.’”
After graduating from Vanderbilt Law School and before coming to SEOLS, Vargas Vegas worked as a staff attorney/pro bono coordinator for a legal aid program in Florida. At SEOLS, Vargas Vegas works under the leadership of Dianna Parker, director of pro bono and community engagement at parent organization Ohio State Legal Services Association, and with Kayla Callahan, pro bono coordinator at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.
The overlap is useful for advancing many objectives, including recruiting private attorneys, law students, or paralegals for pro bono service and developing different service projects.
“We operate as one pro bono program that serves different areas,” Vargas Vegas said.
The pandemic has allowed for increased collaboration between SEOLS and The Legal Aid Society of Columbus because most of the programming is remote, eliminating the geographic boundaries for clients.
“Projects typically located in Columbus and geared toward Columbus clients have now been opened to clients in the Southeastern Ohio region,” Vargas Vegas said. “Because the clinics are remote and volunteers are working from home, everything has been more inclusive.”
One thing she values about her position is relationship building. Vargas Vegas, who was born in Venezuela and lives in Columbus with her husband and two children, appreciates that the virtual format has provided greater opportunities to get to know the volunteers.
“It’s been great learning more about them, their jobs, hobbies and families,” she said. “We used to do that during our in-person clinics before, but sometimes we didn’t have as much downtime to really talk.”
Vargas Vegas sees technology continuing to play a prominent role in expanding pro bono services and legal services generally.
“I’m looking forward to new opportunities in the coming years to expand our program,” she said. “And the more we expand, the more clients we’re going to be able to serve.”
Are you an attorney interested in volunteering with SEOLS? Visit https://www.seols.org/attorney-volunteer-interest-form/
October is Pro Bono Month and the Foundation is celebrating by highlighting the pro bono coordinators at each Ohio legal aid. Read the profiles.