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On June 2nd, summer associates from Philadelphia’s large and mid-sized firms were not only exposed to the needs of the poor but also given the opportunity to lend a hand. Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP) hosted its annual Summer Associates’ Day, a forum consisting of guest speakers and special training seminars to make associates more aware of the community’s legal needs and encourage them to be a part of meeting those needs. Philadelphia VIP is a non-profit pro bono organization that matches low-income clients with civil legal problems with volunteer lawyers and law students. After a welcome from Philadelphia VIP executive director Margaret deMarteleire, associates were addressed by executive director of the Philadelphia Bar Association Ken Shear and board of governors chair Andrew Chirls on the importance and necessity of pro bono work. Shear, who has been the PBA’s executive director for nearly 24 years, reminded the law students of the bar’s ongoing commitment to serve the public good. “Lawyers are one of the only professions who provide their services for free,” Shear said. “This is not only a charitable act but also a requirement according to the code of professional responsibility.” Chirls, a partner at Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, encouraged associates to get involved in the program, calling it a natural fit that helps accommodate law students’ desire for public service. “VIP provides the structure and opportunity to match lawyers and law students with needy clients by finding appropriate cases in an organized way to utilize these volunteer services,” Chirls said. “The program screens cases to develop a basic understanding to establish its importance to the people in need. “ A session on client interviewing techniques followed, led by University of Pennsylvania Law School clinical faculty member Colleen Coonnelly. Here, associates learned basic interviewing skills, particularly how to best obtain the pertinent evidence and information necessary for a successful outcome. She described the client interview as central to legal representation, calling it the primary vehicle to elicit facts. Coonnelly, too, emphasized the need for pro bono work, especially now as the need for legal representation is steadily rising. “The whole legal system is premised on the assumption that the litigant is represented by counsel,” Coonnelly said. “The process is difficult if not impossible to navigate without a lawyer, which is why litigants absolutely need counsel to establish justice.” Although VIP was established in response to this need, the community it serves is so vast that only a fraction of these needs are met. “Today, one cannot provide sufficient self-representation and therefore, cannot expect to win without a lawyer,” Coonnelly said. “There are too many cases lost that should have been won under ordinary circumstances if proper legal representation had been provided, which is why continued and ongoing pro bono work is essential.” Following Coonnelly’s seminar, associates broke up into groups and had the opportunity to further broaden their horizons by attending a second seminar of their choice. Topics included name changing, estate planning, adult Supplemental Security Income, immigration and removal law, and an introduction to the Kid’s Custody Assistance Program. The forum concluded with a luncheon where associates were joined by various Philadelphia judges, providing them with the chance to mingle with local experts in their field. Doreen Davis, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, also addressed the associates at this time. The summer associates at the event expressed their gratitude for the valuable learning experience as well as the plethora of opportunities with which VIP provides them. Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen summer associate Kynya Manning, a University of Pennsylvania law student, plans on volunteering her services to VIP this summer after attending the forum. Manning has had past pro bono experience and would like to continue. “Being a lawyer is a privilege, which is why lawyers should share their knowledge and skills with the community, especially the less fortunate members, as much as possible,” Manning said. “Public service should be a mandated part of the legal profession.” Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll summer associate Paul Booth, a Duke University law student, also found the forum to be highly beneficial, especially the optional seminar. Booth attended the immigration and removal law session, a field to which he previously had little exposure. “There are lots of people with no access to legal services who need and deserve assistance just as much as those people who can afford them,” Booth said. “As lawyers or future lawyers, it is our duty to see that such needs are met.” Encouraging active participation was indeed the main message this year’s speakers tried to drive home. “So many associates from our first VIP program are still returning to take on pro bono cases,” deMarteleire said. “We hope this idea of volunteer service sticks and becomes a lasting trend.”

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