From 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each
month, Jewish Legal Services (JLS) opens its doors to provide free legal advice
to income-eligible members of the community. The free clinic, located at 5750
Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore City, is a program of The Associated Jewish
Community Federation and has been operating for close to eight years. With
the help of volunteer coordinators, attorneys and paralegals, JLS fields a
wide range of legal questions from nearly 100 clients annually.
For the past several years, Anupa Mukhopadhyay has joined
other generous volunteers to staff the JLS walk-in clinic. For an hour and
a half, they provide private consultations with clients to address their law-related
questions, some of which pertain to immigration matters. A strong immigrant
community surrounds the clinic, so the clinic receives more immigration questions
than other general legal clinics in the City. These immigration questions are
deftly handled by experienced immigration attorneys like Mukhopadhyay.
Mukhopadhyay’s private practice is a combination of
business, corporate and immigration law, and it is from this base that her
interest in immigration law evolved. Mukhopadhyay notes how her European clients
particularly prefer to work exclusively with one attorney, and she recalls
her initial foray into immigration law.
“I had some multinational clients who needed their
employees to come in here and set up their U.S. subsidiary, develop and operate
it,” says Mukhopadhyay. “One of my European clients basically said, ‘I
don’t want to go to anyone else, I want you to do the immigration.’ So
I ended up doing the immigration and that sort of got the ball rolling, and
now 50 percent of my practice is immigration, 50 percent is business and corporate,
commercial litigation and transactional work.” This experience has served
Mukhopadhyay well, and it has certainly been an advantage to JLS clients.
Most of the immigration inquiries clients bring to the JLS
clinic are very basic. “For example, we will receive questions such as: ‘I
filed an application for a work permit or to adjust my status, and I haven’t
received it. Can you look at my papers and tell me, am I supposed to do something
else?’” Mukhopadhyay explains. “Sometimes it’s as simple
as telling them, you just have to wait because it’s the Federal government
and you just have to wait for them to process your paperwork.” There
have been cases which have required a follow-up letter from Mukhopadhyay, but
as she explains, “most of the times, even if it takes a little bit of
time, we are mostly done by nine o’clock.”
As is often the case with immigration matters, language frequently
creates a barrier to progress for some JLS clients. Here again, volunteers
step in to ensure that quality services are delivered. Mukhopadhyay has upon
occasion availed herself of these volunteer translation services, which have
allowed her to provide legal advice to clients who otherwise would not be able
to access her expertise.
Volunteering at JLS is Mukhopadhyay’s first experience
with pro bono service; she learned about the opportunity during a morning meeting
at her firm Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman. The partners have continued
to be very supportive of her pro bono efforts, and in fact two of the three
partners, Jeffrey Lippman and Edward Friedman, volunteer with JLS themselves.
Mukhopadhyay reports that it has been a good experience for her, and she has
seen the dramatic impact her advocacy can create.
JLS serves low-income members of the community with any legal
problems they encounter. If you would like to join the ranks of volunteers
who gather for a few hours each month to offer legal advice to the Park Heights
community, please contact Sharon E. Goldsmith at (410) 837-9379.
Lisa Muscara is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center