I'm ashamed to say that it has been years since I sought out volunteer work of any kind. But I broke that streak recently when I volunteered at the monthly Saturday legal clinic sponsored by the Memphis Association of Legal Services (MALS). Thank goodness that I did.
At 9 a.m., I arrived at the library where the Saturday clinics are held. Several people seeking legal assistance were already there filling out intake forms. I was happy to find that many of the volunteers were legal staffers. Our jobs included intake, answering questions about the intake forms, matching legal issues with suitable attorneys, and receiving finalized paperwork.
I walked around most of the time helping people with raised hands and taking up their completed intake forms. I answered questions about the kind of information the applicants needed to give, and I played with babies.
Surprisingly, the number of volunteers that day almost matched the number of clients that showed up. Family and employment lawyers were most on demand, but some people also had estate questions. We saw people of all ages, ethnicities, and income brackets.
The only problem with this otherwise wonderful experience is that I felt nearly useless. As a paralegal, my job is to assist attorneys. In the clinic setting, I was not assisting attorneys, and I had a very limited role in helping the clients. The assistance I was able to provide was purely administrative. I found myself wishing that I could do more... take notes, draft something up, research a legal problem, etc. But in the clinic setting, they need volunteers who can make sure forms are filled out correctly and decipher handwriting. It was much better to show up and be used for those tasks than not to show up at all.
I've decided to make the MALS Saturday clinics a monthly habit. It feels good to be donating time toward the field I love. If you are a legal secretary, paralegal, law student, or attorney in the Memphis area, and you are interesting in volunteering, visit the MALS website.