CHARLESTON — Legal Aid of West Virginia has received a grant of more than $200,000 to expand a program called the Lawyer in the School Project.
Legal Services Corporation awarded the Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grant of $202,439 to LAWV to help expand the Lawyer in the School project to a second school.
Legal Services Corporation president Jim Sandman said the grant is in recognition of a high-quality and innovative program LAWV has developed to place volunteer lawyers in a school and to expand the program to a second school.
"The original school and the second school are in low-income areas where people cannot afford a lawyer but often have legal needs affecting significant matters — like their housing and their economic well-being," Sandman said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "It makes lawyers available to them under circumstances where they otherwise have no help at all.
"They work with the larger law firms in Charleston to identify the volunteers who will staff the work in the schools. They're expanding their resources of Legal Aid of West Virginia by enlisting and mobilizing volunteer lawyers who aren't paid and who make their services available for free to low-income people."
The project assists students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary in Charleston's West Side, home to many of the city's low-income residents.
The grant will help the program expand to Grandview Elementary, which serves students from the same neighborhood.
Sandman said Legal Services Corporation is grateful to Congress for establishing the grant and for increasing funding this year, which helps allow grantees to reach more people in need of legal assistance.
Sandman said the the program also brings the expertise of the lawyers right to people in their own neighborhood and their own school.
"The people who need legal help don't have to find their way to a Legal Aid office, they don't have to figure out how to navigate the system," Sandman said. "The lawyers come right on site to a school that parents are familiar with and comfortable with. The parents may be referred by a social worker or a nurse at the school who has recognized a problem that might benefit from the help of a lawyer and the convenience of having that help made available right there in that familiar environment makes a big difference in making it easy for people to get access to the legal help they need."
Sandman said LAWV previously received a grant to start the project and now Legal Services Corporation is providing the second grant to help expand.
"We at Legal Services Corporation, in making this grant, want to signal this is a great idea that we hope that other Legal Aid organizations and volunteer lawyers across the country will replicate," Sandman said. "It's a brilliant idea. There should be more programs like this. This is a very big deal. It's a vote of confidence in Legal Aid of West Virginia. They do great work. I hope West Virginians appreciate them."
Sen. Joe Manchin said the funding will provide smart, hardworking professionals in West Virginia communities the resources they need to properly advocate for students and families.
"I’m glad that Legal Aid of West Virginia will receive this funding to continue to offer pro bono legal services to those in need," Manchin said in a news release. "It’s these types of programs that make the difference in West Virginia, and I will continue to work to secure more grant opportunities so these organizations like the Legal Aid of West Virginia can continue these important services."
U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins thanked Legal Services Corporation for investing in West Virginia.
LAWV is one of 15 recipients of grants from the $4.5 million Pro Bono Innovation Fund by Legal Services Corporation. This is the fifth year the organization has awarded the grant to recipients across the country.