Community Profiles: Erick Cordero Giorgana, Alaska Legal Services Corporation (Cont’d)

In Today’s post we complete our discussion with Erick Cordero Giorgana from the Alaska Pro Bono Program of Alaska Legal Services Corporation. Erick shares another project his program has used to address the needs of members of Alaska’s rural communities.

What other projects are you using to address the unique challenge of working in such a large rural service area?

Another project we have been using thus far to meet the need of rural communities is the Adopt a Region program. To address the needs of communities without local attorneys we approached a “large law firm” (10 or more for Alaska) in Anchorage about an idea where they would adopt a region of Alaska and provide pro bono representation to individuals living in that area. A few years ago we started an attorney of the day program in Anchorage, where a local law firm would donate an attorney for a day to give advice or screening to qualified individuals. I thought to myself “why couldn’t we do that for rural areas of Alaska?” I approached Patton Boggs and asked them if they would consider adopting a region, similar to what we do in anchorage with the attorney of the day. Hypothetically, clients would apply for services at the local ALSC office and if they qualified financially they would receive services. Patton Boggs agreed to take cases from almost any subject area and adopted the city of Nome andAlaska’s North Slope Borough, the northern most area of Alaska located in the Arctic. They were flexible enough so that anyone who applied from those regions they would consider on a case by case basis.

Partnerships such as this one are great because our local offices can focus on the local regions when they have the commitment from that law firm. Prior to this agreement with Patton Boggs we did not have an office in that area so that entire region was being serviced by our Fairbanks office. After the adoption we were able to handle more cases. It also got the law firm excited because they were a part of a pro bono program that was pretty unique. We are now opening an office in that area which should enhance the project in two ways. First, by having a local office more people will have an opportunity to be pre-screened and matched with a pro bono attorney. Second, we will have a local representation in the community that will provide us a better opportunity to advertise our services. Before the possibility of having an office in that area we partnered with local non profits and faith-based agencies to advertise that we had services available.

It is important to point out that for programs who are not able to have a physical presence in rural communities, partnering with community members can be one of the best ways to get the word out about available services to individuals who really need the help but do not know how to get it. One of the great things for our program is that re-opening this office (ALSC once had a Barrow office, but it had to close due to budgetary constraints) will not create an increased financial burden. We were already receiving the referrals and now we will have a better streamlined process for handling them. The law firm’s attorneys will still assess issues on a case by case basis but there will be more access for clients. I’m excited to say that we now have 3 other law firms interested in adopting regions. The firms find it to be unique and they are excited to focus on one geographical area and really make an impact. One of the law firms is considering a similar partnership where they will limit the practice areas in which they will provide representation to really develop expertise in those areas as well. It becomes an even more mutually beneficial partnership where clients are receiving services they otherwise might not receive and firms are gaining valuable experience and training while truly making a concerted impact in a particular area and seeing the fruits of their labor.

What was the greatest lesson you learned about managing pro bono?

That a “no” just means “not now.” I think that attorneys are generous even though they can sometimes have a bad reputation outside of the legal field. Most attorneys are very giving and often say no for a lot of different reasons. If you can overcome those obstacles, a lot of people really do want to make a difference. One of the nicest things I have seen is a client receiving services and afterward sending that attorney a letter telling them how much they have changed their lives. It is really something to witness.

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