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A Blueprint for American Lawyers to Help Ukrainians

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Right now, the hearts and souls of millions of Ukrainians are being displaced from their homeland due to a conflict caused by forces beyond their control. Most wish to simply return to their homes and resume life as it was before the Russian invasion.

It is important that all maintain hope for the arrival of that day. And as lawyers, we are in a position to use our skills to confront one of the most significant humanitarian crises the world has seen since World War II by facilitating the sheltering of Ukrainian refugees until the day comes when they can return home.  

During my time leading the Georgia Bar Young Lawyers Division’s Community Service Committee, I proudly witnessed the collective determination of the state’s young lawyers to help those most in need within our communities, sometimes in a legal capacity and other times by volunteering time for simpler tasks. I am confident that the attorneys of all the United States share such a desire to help those in need.

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Lawyers should focus on two efforts right now to help Ukrainians: 

  • assisting with immigration matters to the U.S.; and 
  • collecting donations of items to help Ukrainians who have been displaced.  

First, the bar organizations of each state should form a temporary leadership committee to organize the aid effort. It is imperative that the committee have an attorney well-versed in immigration law, particularly in relation to the Ukrainian refugees’ situation. It would also be wise to have committee members from the largest legal aid non-profit organization in the state.

Once the committee is formed, a uniform case template or action plan should be created to be utilized for each Ukrainian refugee in need. This case template should include go-bys of all forms, letters, pleadings, etc., that may be utilized.

Once this case template or action plan is finalized, the committee should prepare a brief legal education presentation that would allow lawyers from all practice areas to handle the refugee cases. Finally, with all of the materials prepared, the committee should put out a state-wide call for attorney volunteers to take these cases pro-bono and notify them of the date when the legal education presentation will be held.

This is not an “if you build it, they will come” moment. To connect Ukrainian refugees to these lawyer volunteers, the bar organization of each state must publicize this service. Each state bar needs to create a clear banner on its website (ideally written in Ukrainian) with information about how to get connected to a pro bono lawyer. 

In addition, the temporary leadership committee should continue to create additional methods of advertising the pro bono service to connect with refugees in need, as well as attend to any questions its attorney volunteers may have about the individual cases they take on.

The temporary leadership committee should also create a list of items that the refugees need and select a drop-off location and times for such items. They should also publish the list via email using the state bar directory of attorneys and place the list of items and the drop-off locations and times on the state bar’s website. The committee can provide these items to the refugees who are being helped with immigration matters or can make arrangements with larger nonprofits to send the items to those in need in Ukraine.

In sum, attorneys in the United States have an opportunity to get involved in this human rights issue. Whether helping a Ukrainian refugee or Ukrainian citizens in need of humanitarian assistance, there is work to be done.  So, contact your state bar leadership and get started now.

Article by Justin Wolfe

Justin Wolfe, an Atlanta personal injury attorney, and owner of Wolfe Law Group, LLC, has spent years in a variety of volunteer capacities and previously was the Chairman of the Georgia Bar Young Lawyers Community Service Projects Committee.

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