Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

”Everyone Can Serve”
By Lisa Muscara

It’s no secret that resources in the legal services community are tight. So, how do organizations make the most of their budgets, ensuring they serve their clients and their missions? One strategy is to harness the talents and energies of volunteers to serve not only as attorneys, but also to provide paralegal and other support services.  Associated Catholic Charities (ACC) of Baltimore and, consequently, the immigrant community in Baltimore have benefited from just such an approach.

Janet Henry was born and raised in Bolivia, traveling to the States for visits throughout her childhood. She moved to the United States to attend college, and has made the US her home since then. This personal experience with immigration inspired Henry to find work as an advocate for the immigrant community.

While still exploring the idea of Baltimore as home, Henry approached Associated Catholic Charities of Baltimore about volunteering for their program. ACC provides client screening, counseling and legal representation for low-income persons with immigration problems in the Baltimore area. Although she didn’t have a background in law, she knew she wanted to work with the immigrant community. When she inquired, Henry remembers, “They were very open to my volunteering, I think largely because of my language abilities.” She began volunteering approximately three times a week, and worked through most of the day. At that point, Henry’s tasks included general filing, writing letters, and filing applications.

Before long, Henry began training to become a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Accredited Representative. To earn this title, a professional must work through a non-profit organization which is also accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals, a part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review. The accredited organization must identify supervising attorneys, have access to research materials, and maintain a non-profit status. After successfully completing a series of trainings and workshops, Henry earned her accreditation in August 2002.

As an accredited representative, Henry now works full-time at ACC. She explains that she can provide many of the same services an attorney might provide for immigration cases. She can officially represent individuals in immigration matters before the INS, the immigration courts, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. She often accompanies clients to various immigration related interviews and to court proceedings. Henry admits that this is a great deal of responsibility, and is easing into her new role gradually, and with great care. While she’s excited about the opportunity to work more independently and with greater accountability, she relies on ACC’s staff attorneys for guidance, claiming to “consult with the attorneys in our office continuously.”

Henry’s favorite part of her job is what initially drew her to this work: sharing a common story with the clients she serves.  “I like hearing the stories behind the case,” she notes. “Every person comes into the office with their own history and story. Often, they’ll bring in other members of their family. I like the personal aspect of the work I do.”

­Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that “everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” ACC has benefited from the greatness of volunteers willing to provide support and legal services to clients in a variety of capacities. Volunteer paralegals and professional BIA accredited representatives increase ACC’s capacity to serve. The diversity of roles successfully helps extend ACC’s resources, and creates exceptional opportunities for non-attorneys to serve as legal advocates for members of the community. “Everyone asks me if I’m going to go to law school, and I’m not sure that I am,” Janet Henry adds. “There are constant challenges that keep this job interesting. For the moment, I’m happy right where I am.”



Publications : Bar Bulletin : January, 2003 

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