Legal Aid Center Sees Influx of Needs, Anticipates ‘Flood’

By Nicole Boyd

Posted May 21, 2020 | 5:48 PM

“We have seen an increase in our hotline calls, definitely,” said Susan Griffith, executive director of Timpanogos Legal Center (TLC), a non-profit legal aid organization supported by BYU Law, where Griffith is also a part-time professor.

Griffith explained, “They [call] with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They lay in bed envisioning every worst-case scenario involved in their case; they are filled with fear, concern, and worry.”

Utahns, especially those in underserved rural areas, can call the Center’s hotline (801-649-8895) anytime. Attorneys are available Monday through Friday from 9 am to 2 pm and messages can be left at any hour.

It’s not surprising that calls have seen a substantial uptick as the pandemic has amplified anxieties, especially for victims of domestic abuse.

“[W]hen the order came out for everybody to go home, stay-in-place, stay safewell, we are sending those people to stay in the most dangerous place they could possibly be,” she said.

The virus has also put a financial strain on many. For example, landlords, tenants, banks, and homeowners are struggling to navigate rental agreements and mortgages. As restrictions begin to lift, the Center is gearing up for a surge of people who need legal help related to housing.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s 45-day freeze on new evictions ended on May 15th and the federal moratorium ends on July 24th for public housing units and homes with federally-backed mortgages. “You can only imagine what’s going to be coming in that area as soon as the stay is lifted and landlords can evict,” said Griffith. “We know there is going to be a flood of people who are going to be pretty desperate for legal help.” 

The Center is staffed by part-time attorneys, BYU Law students, retired lawyers, and attorney volunteers. Volunteers include BYU Law alumni and members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. “Our volunteers have been calling us to ask, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’” said Griffith. “We have so many good-hearted attorneys who want to make a difference.”

But more volunteers will likely be needed as the situation evolves. The Center can use brand new, or experienced attorneys. Right now they especially need help with document preparation and doing online interviews.  

To volunteer, email timplegal@gmail.com or email Griffith at griffiths@law.byu.edu.

BYU Law is just one of many law schools lending a hand during the pandemic. Here’s a sampling of how others are pitching in. 

Fordham University School of Law

Fordham’s Federal Litigation Clinic immediately began reaching out to clients in prison, as well as their families, to determine whether they have any underlying conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the COVID-19. 

Harvard Law School

Because of social distancing requirements, restaurants and other businesses are closed, that means there’s a lot of food going to waste or spoiling when it could be used by those in need.  That’s where Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic stepped in. They are working to find ways to get that food into the hands of those in need. 

University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Since the president signed the CARES Act, many small businesses have been struggling to decode it’s policies. The school’s New Business Community Law Clinic is hosting informational webinars for small businesses trying to navigate the crisis including the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Plan, which offers low-interest loans to small businesses that retain their employees.

Cornell Law School

The work of the school’s Estate Planning Practicum is especially timely, given the mounting death toll of Covid-19. The practicum’s three adjunct professors and students scrambled to create a system to execute wills remotely for low-income clients in Tompkins County, where Cornell is located. 

University of California at Los Angeles School of Law

As many organizations are calling for the release of prisoners due to Covid related concerns. The  Prison Law and Policy Program created two databases of information designed to assist in the effort to protect inmates.