As Pro Bono Needs Increase, Dayton VLP Celebrates 25 Years
Helenka Marculewicz is the face of the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project. She is the founding executive director who helped create the agency that is supported by the Dayton Bar Association, Dayton Bar Foundation, and the Legal Aid Society of Dayton.
With only three staff members, the Dayton VLP serves around 850 attorneys who perform pro bono service in seven western Ohio counties. Marculewicz is the 2013 Ohio honorary chair for National Pro Bono week on October 20-26, which is fitting as she plans to retire at the end of the year as the Dayton VLP celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“I’m really honored. I love pro bono. I’ve had such a wonderful experience doing this for 25 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said it’s not me. It’s really the attorneys who just step up and understand that there are people out there who will never afford their services,” Marculewicz said.
Marculewicz said she has much respect for the attorneys who freely share their expertise in civil litigation.
“I find attorneys very willing to give their professional time to people who can’t afford it,” Marculewicz said.
In a video recently released by the Dayton VLP, one client said a pro bono attorney helped her finalize her divorce.
“If it hadn’t been for her, I would still be looking for someone to represent me and figuring out how I was getting the money to pay for that attorney,” she said.
During her 25 years working in pro bono services, Marculewicz said one change she’s noticed is a technological divide between younger and older attorneys and how her agency finds out if they are available to help with pro bono cases.
“You have the older, professional attorneys who are very wed to the older ways of doing things, like writing, sending letters and you have the young attorneys who consider technology to be more important than anything else,” Marculewicz said. “And it’s sometimes difficult for us to weigh what is the best way to contact an attorney. Do they want a telephone call, do they want a fax, or do they want us to text them or email them?”
With funding cuts to legal aid within the last few years, Marculewicz said more pro bono attorney volunteers are needed. She said for pro bono to grow, it has to become a full partner with the legal aid society.
“Two programs, a pro bono program working hand in hand with a legal aid society can create and substantially expand the amount of service available for low income people, and I think that’s what we do here,” Marculewicz said.
Marculewicz expects the number of attorneys who perform pro bono service to increase when the Ohio Supreme Court implements a new rule change effective January 2014. Attorneys can receive up to 6 hours of continuing legal education credit for 36 hours of pro bono work.