Ask CVLS’ Jewish United Fund / Jewish Community Legal Services Clinic chair, Sima Blue, how potential clients find out about the clinic catering to Chicago’s Jewish population, and her answer could be used to describe CVLS in general: clients are referred from social service agencies and the courts, but mostly, she says, “I ask them how they heard about our programs and they’ll all say, ‘oh, everybody knows.’”
Makes sense, given that Sima has worked with the clinic “forever.” With a Masters in Psychology, Sima developed the proposal for the Jewish United Fund’s Jewish Community Legal Services after 25 years at the American Jewish Congress. Under JUF, the program expanded significantly from 25 cases per year to more than 100.
Sima works with a varied group of volunteer attorneys. She’s worked with some for upwards of 20 years, while others are newer – like the JUF’s Jordan Silver, who recently helped an 89-year-old Russian immigrant reduce her monthly Social Security overpayment from $75 to $10. JUF volunteers see all kinds of cases come through the clinic. From a nearly year-long waiting list for divorce cases to a recent uptick in power of attorney cases and everything in between, running a clinic of this size can be challenging, but also very rewarding.
“You really need to have an agency like CVLS that is there to provide all the assistance and resources, that has a reputation in the court and offers malpractice and CLE,” Sima says. “Without CVLS, I don’t know how we could do it.”
So why does she do it? Why does she encourage lawyers to do pro bono? “[Attorneys] are so used to talking to corporate people and doing things that are at a distance from humanity,” she says. “Here, when they get a chance to talk to a person, they can be the make-or-break person in the client’s life. They can have a major effect on whether this person falls through the cracks or is able to continue on. They don’t get that in the corporate realm.”
CASE IN POINT:
VOLUNTEER ATTORNEY LISA GREEN & CLIENT JOE
JUF Clinic volunteer attorney Lisa Green helped Joe challenge the Office of the Public Guardian’s guardianship over him. Joe, who is mentally ill but high functioning, was in danger of losing his home when he neglected to pay his property taxes. After hearing testimony that he was a hoarder and had made other poor financial decisions, the court adjudicated him disabled and appointed the Office of Public Guardian as his guardian. Joe wanted to fight that decision.
Lisa spent months getting to know Joe and working with him. She helped him engage a cleaning crew for his home and arrange for a new medical evaluation. She also helped him clarify what he needed and wanted. In one of the most challenging aspects of the case, Lisa convinced Joe to weigh complete autonomy against his safety and helped him find a supported living facility that provided mental and physical treatment.
“He had spent a lot of time not having the help he needed,” Lisa says. “In trading away some freedom, he gained a world of help." Joe is safe and supported now. Lisa says that what was most important to him was the opportunity to tell his story in court.
A medical malpractice attorney, Lisa was not very familiar with guardianship law, so this case let her build on her legal skills while helping someone in need. “It feels really good to do this kind of work,” she says, “to take what I know and help someone.”
Clinic chair Sima Blue said that Lisa “did an amazing job on a type of case you really don’t see every day.” That’s dedication!