Many people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic need legal help—particularly in navigating unemployment benefits—and Albany Law students are rising to the occasion through the newly formed COVID Response Corps.
More than two dozen Albany Law School students are working this summer with the Legal Aid of Northeastern New York (LASNNY)—a nonprofit that provides legal services to those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney—to offer a helping hand as LASNNY manages its increased workload.
"We anticipated Legal Aid was going to be hit pretty hard. We knew client need would increase," said Professor Ray Brescia, who helped organize the partnership. "Students wanted to be a part of helping out and use their training to help people in need."
The idea sparked from a virtual town hall meeting. Quickly, students and organizers mobilized, raising their hands to help—wherever they are, in any way they can.
"We have students all over the country who are taking this on in addition to their other work," Professor Brescia said.
Twenty-one in-house interns are working with LASNNY—20 are Albany Law School students—and also are serving as law clerks. As courts reopen, they may take on in-person work.
LASNNY also added a group of 16 law students and recent graduates specifically to assist with COVID-19–related research. Those students are working remotely on an as-needed basis, though all have been involved in projects from the start, Professor Brescia said.
"We are thrilled at the level of commitment the COVID Response Corps has brought to our clients and the Legal Aid Society," LASNNY Executive Director Lillian Moy said. "From our managing attorneys to our support staff, we appreciate the opportunity to bring real-life experiences to Albany Law students. We know that many will stay in New York and will serve and support their low-income neighbors throughout their careers."
Many students are working remotely in areas ranging from direct legal services to indirect legal support. Some chip in a few hours a week; others spend a full work week immersed in helping LASNNY's clients.
For rising 2L Raymond Leggett IV, the COVID Response Corps allows him to assist those who need legal guidance—especially during particularly hard times—and advance his legal skills, specifically his research into unemployment laws and the CARES Act.
It's also been a way to get to know his law school colleagues—even at a distance.
"There's a sense of community and solidarity among Albany Law students taking part in this. It's really quite profound that the group of students—so many students who want to help—want to create a better situation for those affected by the pandemic," he said.
The Corps partnership is also supported by the law school's Career and Professional Development Center.
"It's an example of how Albany Law School comes together and uses what we know to help our community," Professor Brescia said.