In an effort to assist the state of Michigan community groups and lawyers as they navigate the overflow of legal work related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of University of Michigan Law School student leaders formed the Michigan Law COVID Corps, a pro bono service with over 240 volunteers and student attorneys.
The organization does not offer legal advice or representation. Rather, volunteers offer assistance in the form of legal or policy research, data gathering or legal analysis. COVID Corps has worked with a variety of organizations, including the Michigan Workers’ Rights Clinic and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, who requested their help through their online form.
Law School student Maiya Moncino founded the group in March. Moncino said she felt it was necessary for students to step up and help lawyers combat the shockwaves of the pandemic during this unprecedented time.
“It’s important for us to be invested in the community that is giving us a legal education,” Moncino said.
The COVID Corps is organized into four task forces: Decarceration, Workers’ Rights and Small Business Support, Voting Rights and Housing Rights. While the COVID Corps focuses on those issues, they are not limited to them.
Law School student Sian Last is a COVID Corps participant and has worked on two projects since joining the group. Last drafted a petition to release an incarcerated person from prison who had previously been granted parole but was being held due to the new COVID-19 procedures, and he compiled research regarding the release of immigrant detainees.
“The really powerful thing about being a lawyer and being a law student is the ability to help people better their situation, especially in a time when things are as difficult as they are,” Last said. “It seemed like there was nothing better to do with my time than to try and help people in whatever way is possible to navigate these systems.”
Law School students Chris Chorzepa and Stephan Llerena are two of six leaders on the Workers’ Rights and Small Business Support task force.
Over 1 million Michigan residents have filed for unemployment, leaving the Michigan Workers’ Rights Clinic overwhelmed with individuals in need of assistance filing for unemployment insurance benefits. Llerena said because the Law School allows first-year students to participate in the Workers’ Rights Clinic, volunteers are equipped to support attorneys with research and intake calls.
Chorzepa was inspired to create the Small Business task force after researching relief options to keep his own family’s small business afloat. He knew the U.S. Small Business Administration was offering loans to help small businesses survive in the pandemic, so he learned how to file an application to receive the loan.
“I thought, if I can do this for my parents, I can definitely do this for small businesses around Michigan,” Chorzepa said.
Kerry Martin, a recent Law School graduate who has been working at Michigan Immigrant Rights Center since January, has delegated two projects to the volunteers. Martin said that with the help of the volunteers, MIRC is able to address extra research projects the center may not have been able to tackle due to the high influx of work.
“This volunteer corps comes at such an important time because so many legal service organizations are working in overdrive to respond to the crisis,” Martin said. “Already, our creative muscles are at limit because there’s so many ways in which this crisis deepens the underlying issues and also the procedural obstacles for our clients to get some form or relief or justice.”
According to Llerena, the Michigan Law COVID Corps is continuing to expand and is interested in helping other law students create similar programs throughout the country.
Martin emphasized how important the volunteer work is important for maximizing aid to the Michigan community.
“These problems create opportunities for young law students and legal volunteers to respond in super creative ways,” Martin said. “I’m just really impressed by the work the volunteer corps is doing and hope they can keep sending us volunteers so we don’t let important issues slip through the cracks during this time of crisis.”
Daily Staff Reporter Callie Teitelbaum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org