Many survivors are in urgent need of legal resources and representation based on needs stemming from the abuse they have experienced. Oftentimes, the legal assistance needed may be above and beyond the capacity of local domestic violence programs. Not only are more attorneys needed to increase the legal services capacity of domestic violence programs but there are many ways in which lay people with some legal training (provided by the domestic violence program) can help, too.
How can someone with an education or interest in legal matters help?
1. Join a Pro Bono Directory
Survivors of domestic violence have a great need for pro bono representation. Many survivors cannot afford private legal representation, and civil legal aid organizations can only provide very specific legal services to a finite number of people who fall within specific income brackets. Frequently, this limited capacity is quickly exceeded.
National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory
This directory includes a comprehensive guide to volunteer opportunities in different states. At the top of the above-listed webpage, attorneys can find a link to the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Guide. Attorneys can then select the state in which they wish to offer their pro bono services. Located on each state’s page is a list of organizations where attorneys can volunteer. Also included is a list of information for potential volunteer attorneys specific to the organization, such as areas of law that are covered, whether training is required or provided, whether malpractice insurance is provided, whether volunteer attorneys must meet a caseload or hours requirement, and the types of projects in need of pro bono help.
Rural Pro Bono Delivery: A Guide to Pro Bono Legal Services in Rural Areas
Many large law firms are located in major metropolitan areas in the U.S., and therefore survivors living in rural parts of the country do not have the same access to these firms as do survivors living in more densely populated areas. To learn about providing free legal services in rural areas, please visit the above website.
WomensLaw.org, a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, is another resource that provides legal information and support to survivors of domestic violence. In addition to providing information on staying safe, preparing for court, and knowing the laws, WomensLaw.org provides information to attorneys seeking to represent survivors. Please visit the above website for more information on helping survivors through representation in legal matters.
2. Assist From a Private Law Firm
Attorneys presently practicing law in private firm environments are strongly encouraged to set aside resources in their firms for the purpose of representing and assisting survivors of domestic violence and their families. In addition to filing for protective orders, survivors' needs for legal assistance can include housing, divorce, child custody and visitation, and employment.
3. Serve as a Court Companion
Volunteer opportunities related to court cases are not limited to attorneys. Non-attorneys, including those with no prior education in the legal arena, can serve as court companions to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault in many jurisdictions. Specifically, court companion volunteers act as an additional support to crime victims; they may also assist by helping a victim complete required paperwork and accompanying them to the subsequent court proceedings.
Moreover, survivors are often faced with additional layers of need. For example, without certain support, survivors who are pursuing civil or criminal action against their abusers may not be able to get to courthouses for multiple hearings or find child care so that their children do not have to attend court (Baker, Cook & Norris, 2003). Court companions can assist survivors with transportation to/from court, as well as help attend to the children during court proceedings.
Contact your state domestic violence coalition, domestic violence shelter, or rape crisis center in your community to learn about volunteer training opportunities in your area. To find the program in your community, access a comprehensive list of state coalitions across the country. Each state coalition has a list of local domestic violence programs (also referred to as members) organized by county or region on their websites.