Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Connecting 31K+ New Yorkers to the Right Help Over the Phone

Even after 30 years of their time as a social worker and non-profit administrator and six years at The Legal Aid Society, Charlie Scheel still expects the unexpected in their role as Director of Helplines, Civil Practice.

Last year, The Legal Aid Society’s various helplines received over 31,000 calls from people seeking legal assistance with varying language and accessibility requirements. Whether the team has to schedule a video conference with a deaf caller using American Sign Language or use a translator for callers who speak languages other than English, they are committed to meeting the needs of each caller.

Each incoming call takes an average of 20 minutes, and the goal is to either complete an intake or send out a referral. Since their call is often a client’s first involvement with Legal Aid, it’s essential for Charlie’s team to not only be asking the right questions to properly assess a person’s legal needs but also have a strong grasp of Legal Aid’s many functions to ensure the client ends up in the right place.

We’re not just talking to callers about the issue they called about but we are doing a full ‘body scan’ of all their legal issues. Somebody might call about an employment issue, and after asking routine questions we learn they do not have health insurance. Then, we refer them to an organization that can help them apply for health insurance.

It’s a fast-paced role, and all throughout the day Charlie balances the needs of the team. They are constantly monitoring internal team messages to help develop their staff’s ability to effectively assist a caller’s needs. Sometimes this means jumping in to take calls themselves when the demand for assistance overwhelms the queues, developing their staff’s ability to handle callers who are especially overwhelmed or dealing with mental health issues, maintaining partnerships both internally and externally, or creating trainings to ensure the team is sensitive to various caller issues.

“At the moment of their phone call, the person is at their wit’s end. They’ve tried everything they can think of. They’ve asked all their friends, and they just need somebody to listen to them. I want them to get the kind of services that I would want for one of my family members,” says Charlie.

Quality assurance is crucial in Charlie’s role. At the end of the day, they review the call logs and ensure that necessary information was captured and if it wasn’t, they figure out why. They pass along any time sensitive requests to Legal Aid units immediately and communicate concerning trends seen in calls with the appropriate legal teams.

Helplines are an essential part of Legal Aid’s commitment to ensuring that everyone has access to the high-quality legal assistance they deserve, and Charlie’s small but growing team will continue to play their part in leveling the playing field for low-income New Yorkers.

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