Paralegals are an integral part of the practice of law. The American Bar Association recognizes that paralegals can enhance lawyers’ abilities to offer paid and pro bono services. That is also true of the role of paralegals as volunteers with VLJ, including longtime Consumer Law Clinic volunteer Maryann McGrath.
Maryann is a paralegal at AT&T, currently focusing on domestic and international corporate governance. Maryann received her Bachelor’s degree from Kean University before earning her Master’s degree from Stevens Institute of Technology. After earning her Bachelor’s in Finance, Maryann worked in customer service at a mutual fund company. She was inspired to pursue her paralegal certificate at Farleigh Dickinson University after learning about the growing number of opportunities for paralegals. While still in school, AT&T recruited her because of her financial background. Upon obtaining her paralegal certificate, Maryann joined AT&T as a securities paralegal, a position she held for ten years before moving to her current specialty.
Maryann became involved with VLJ through AT&T attorney and VLJ Board President Susan McGahan. When Susan first approached Maryann about volunteering in VLJ’s Consumer Law Clinic, Maryann jumped at the opportunity to use her legal knowledge to help others. She thought she might volunteer once or twice; instead, she has volunteered every month for the past five years. Each month, she works with attorneys to help clients who are facing debt collectors or who are being sued for debts in the Special Civil Part. Maryann puts her skills as a paralegal to use, reviewing documents and talking to clients to bring clarity to their situation.
Maryann and Susan frequently work together as a team during the clinics, an arrangement that works well because of their chemistry. That teamwork has led to success for many VLJ clients who walked through the door overwhelmed but left feeling empowered. In one instance, a client had been sued to collect on a bail bond he signed, even though he was hearing impaired and did not have the reading comprehension to understand what he was signing. After receiving assistance at his clinic appointment, he was able to successfully avoid liability. In another case, Maryann recalls helping a family facing debt collectors. Maryann and Susan were able to come up with a payment plan to help the family resolve the collection issue. The family’s young son was particularly relieved that the family television would be safe
The ability to make a difference for clients is something that inspires Maryann to keep returning to the clinic. “The clients love that someone cares about them and that someone takes the time to consider what will work for their life.” For a client that has been sued over debt, the whole process can be frightening and intimidating. With her experience, Maryann can demystify that process.
“Maryann’s commitment to VLJ clients stands out,” says VLJ Executive Director Cathy Keenan. “Five years of volunteering at the Consumer Law Clinic is extraordinary.” She adds, “Maryann is a fantastic example of how much legal professionals have to offer to pro bono clients.”
Maryann’s experience at VLJ has been rewarding for her as well. “The staff at VLJ has always welcomed me and made me feel comfortable.” According to Maryann, “It’s just a good feeling all around. It’s like a little family.”