Ohio Legal Help sat down with Jack Maib, Ohio Justice Bus Justice for All Fellow, and Sophia Chang, Pro Bono Director for the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation, to learn more about the Ohio Justice Bus. The Ohio Justice Bus is a mobile legal aid office and technology hotspot that allows attorneys to provide legal services to underserved Ohioans at no cost to clients.
Ohio Legal Help (OLH): What is the Ohio Justice Bus? Tell us the story about how the Ohio Justice Bus got started and the original vision for the Bus.
Jack Maib and Sophia Chang: The Ohio Justice Bus is a mobile legal services office and its goal is to fill gaps in legal services in areas where there are limited legal resources in Ohio, particularly rural counties of Ohio. We drive all over the state and coordinate with many local legal aids, bar associations, private attorneys, and other nonprofit organizations to set up legal clinics to address unmet needs. We have a goal of getting these local clinics scheduled on a recurring basis and building trust in the communities we are serving.
The Ohio Justice Bus was created out of an idea to reach underserved Ohioans in rural parts of Ohio. Stemming from a statewide pro bono summit for legal aids, pro bono coordinators, and other partners like the Supreme Court of Ohio, the idea of a mobile legal aid office was proposed as a way to expand pro bono services across Ohio. The goal at the time was to focus on rural parts of Ohio where people need transportation to get to an attorney or legal aid office. The Foundation started to look for funding opportunities and received a grant from the Supreme Court of Ohio and the AEP Foundation to build out the Bus into what it is today.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to pivot slightly with our vision for the Bus, but our goal has always been to reach underserved Ohioans.
OLH: COVID-19 changed the way a lot of organizations operate. How did it affect the Bus and what are its plans moving forward?
JM/SC: The Bus calendar was filling up with clinics right when COVID-19 hit and the state shut down. This led to the clinics being cancelled and caused us to change our operations temporarily. We would still travel and do virtual clinics, so the client could sit in the Bus and chat with an attorney over Zoom or another video platform. It worked well since both parties could be safe and socially-distanced, and the client could still receive the help that they needed.
Additionally, we started helping with more personalized services, such as wills and other end-of-life documents. We worked with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus to have their volunteer attorneys draft these documents, and then the Ohio Justice Bus would travel to the client directly for a one-on-one meeting for review and notarize the documents. This was a huge success and helped a lot of elderly clients who were not sure if they would be able to get these documents ready during the pandemic.
Moving forward, we are restarting in-person clinics and will be doing so throughout the summer. We are very excited to get back out there!
OLH: How can attorneys volunteer to help out on the Bus?
JM/SC: The easiest way for attorneys to get started is to email [email protected] if there is a specific clinic they are interested in or if they have an idea for a place the Bus should visit. Attorneys can also fill out a general volunteer form with their information, availability, and in which areas of law they are comfortable practicing and we will reach out with opportunities that might be of interest. We are always looking to partner with attorneys, firms, and other organizations. We also accept paralegals and law students who are interested in volunteering.
OLH: What upcoming clinics or events will the Bus be participating in?
JM/SC: To see a full list of Ohio Justice Bus clinics and events, go to www.ohiojusticebus.org and check out the calendar. Additionally, you can email [email protected] if you have any questions or need assistance to sign up for a clinic. To follow the Ohio Justice Bus, find @OhioJusticeBus on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.