Jennifer M. Schindele
In the last year, the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program received over 4,000 applications for legal assistance.[i]
The Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program (“IVLP”) is a program of the Idaho Law Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to increase access to legal services and enhance public understanding of the law. IVLP provides a safety net for low-income individuals and families in Idaho who require civil legal services and cannot afford to pay for them.
IVLP delivers services to individuals in different ways; one way is through managing community legal clinics. Advice and counsel legal clinics allow pro bono attorneys to provide and review legal documents, answer legal questions, and make recommendations on the best course of action, including, where necessary, referral of applicants to further legal services through IVLP or partner agencies.
In 2021, as IVLP endeavored to return to some pre-pandemic routine, it landed at the Garden City Public Library in Garden City, Idaho. While many of the prior clinic venues were still prohibiting in person meetings, the Garden City Library welcomed lawyers back in.
As it turns out, libraries are ideal for legal clinics. Libraries are a reliable and trusted source of information and resources for many community members. Libraries are often a first point of contact for individuals seeking legal information or to determine if their problem could be resolved with the law. In addition to typically being in centralized locations, libraries provide access to technology to populations less likely to have a broadband connection to the internet or free printing capability.
Most legal clinics are walk-in or first-come-first-serve and advice is received only if an attorney happens to be available. In part due to pandemic fall out, in October of 2021 when IVLP initiated its first Lawyer in the Library Legal Clinic in Garden City, it quickly realized registration and scheduling for the clinic would be necessary to manage the number of patrons seeking legal assistance and the number of volunteer attorneys utilizing meeting space to provide that assistance. The pre-clinic preparation was helpful, and it was clear that a need was being met as the clinic registrations were full each week, often with a waiting list.
More than a year later, IVLP has multiple Lawyer in the Library Clinics in the Treasure Valley up and running and ongoing discussions with additional libraries to expand even more. Offering an initial advice and counsel session can often confirm that the participants’ situation could have a legal remedy and suggest a course of action on self-help forms and filing. There are times when the participant’s issue does not have a legal solution, or the advice they receive is that they would benefit from hiring an attorney to represent them. In those cases, the participant may not leave the clinic with resolution or course of action, but they are always relieved to hear the perspective and advice of an expert.
Amanda Berardinelli, Programs and Outreach Librarian at the Garden City Library, has received positive feedback from participants who have received advice on issues ranging from will writing, adoption, rental agreements, and parental rights. “Navigating the legal system, finding the correct forms to fill out, and figuring out the next steps can be intimidating for many people. Having professionals in the library to refer our patrons to has been a great resource,” said Berardinelli. “We hope to continue this partnership far into the future.”
Volunteering for IVLP’s Lawyer in the Library Clinics also provides opportunity to the attorneys. Requiring that the participants pre-register for the clinics, the volunteers know ahead of time the type of legal issues they will be hearing. It’s an opportunity to gain experience outside of their current area of law and work alongside other attorneys with different expertise and experience. Clinic volunteer, Ian Frost, had been looking for volunteer opportunities when he heard about the clinics. Not having a lot of experience, he was apprehensive at first, but has enjoyed volunteering his time. “I like the variety of issues and the people that I have encountered. I wanted to become a lawyer so that I could do some good, and it has been gratifying to help people navigate their legal issues.”
Current Lawyer in the Library Clinics Offered:
Downtown Boise Public Library: 1st Tuesday of the month from Noon to 2pm
Garden City Public Library: 3rd Thursday of the month from 4pm to 6pm
Nampa Public Library: 4th Thursday every other month from Noon to 2pm (Feb, April, June, Aug, Oct, Dec)
Meridian Library-Cherry Lane: 4th Tuesday every other month from 5pm to 7pm (Feb, April, June, Aug, Oct., Dec)
Jennifer M. Schindele is the Director of the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program. Jennifer earned an English degree at the University of Idaho and completed law school and the University of Idaho College of Law. Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, playing soccer, and exploring Idaho’s outdoors.
[i] From March 2022 until March of 2023.