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A Day In The Life

Answering the Call for a City in Crisis Through Our Helplines

Jean Marie Miranda, Director of Intake for our Civil Practice, offered an emphatic answer when asked if transitioning to a remote system was at all easy: “Absolutely not.”

Jean Marie oversees our intake team and the different helplines in the Civil Practice, which offer help with pressing issues like housing, employment, benefits, and immigration. For some clients, the intake team handles even more. Before the COVID-19 pandemic made all of our operations remote, volunteers from our law firm and corporate partners would meet in our offices. But now, in order to serve some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, these helplines had to change nearly every operating procedure almost overnight.

Was transitioning to remote work easy? Absolutely not.

Overhauling the helplines came with some obstacles. In 48 hours, Jean and her dedicated intake team scrambled to connect the various helpline telephone numbers to mobile phones all over the city, a costly and logistically dizzying endeavor. There was also the confidentiality issue; they handle personal client information, which needs to be safeguarded. Perhaps most daunting was the inability to use volunteers for volunteer-based helplines. To fill the gap, we recruited 25 paralegals, already busy with their prior responsibilities, to now handle the phones.

This was hardly the first test for Jean Marie. In 2016, when President Trump announced his first Travel Ban, Jean Marie, alongside our Pro Bono Practice, helped create the Immigration Helpline. The helpline was open 24 hours a day for immigrants seeking assistance. Now, with the demand for our services growing again, Jean Marie and our hotlines are answering the call for New Yorkers in need. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Access2Benefits Helpline quickly went from “nine hours a week to 10am-3pm every day” to meet the explosion in demand.

While the start of the pandemic was surely a shock for the helpline, Jean Marie and her team are now able to help more people by answering the tough legal questions they have. Thanks to people like Jean Marie Miranda, in the toughest times, The Legal Aid Society is able to rise to the occasion.

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