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Michigan Law Students Provide a Corps of Community Support During COVID-19

By Chelsea Liddy Pivtorak
June 11, 2020

As the COVID-19 outbreak spread through Michigan and across the United States, rising 2L Maiya Moncino worked to create a centralized volunteer effort to assist individuals affected by the pandemic, a community effort now known as the COVID Corps.

"The goal of COVID Corps is to address needs created by this situation, to help create infrastructure, and to fill any gaps," she said. "I think there's a lot that law students can do now—there's going to be a huge amount of legal problems that stem from the pandemic."

Moncino first reached out broadly to her classmates, and held an initial phone call at the beginning of April. The group has since recruited more than 250 students, and now includes students from the Law School as well as from the broader University of Michigan community. The Corps is organized into four task forces: housing rights, decarceration, workers' rights and small business support, and voting rights. 

To assist with outreach efforts, the team found community-based organizations that needed extra assistance with COVID-related projects during quarantine. They also collaborated with other student-led groups, including the Michigan Parity Project and the Michigan Voting Project. Volunteer members of COVID Corps are supervised by faculty in the Michigan Law Workers' Rights Clinic, as well as licensed attorneys at participating organizations. Moncino was initially worried that the Corps would struggle to find enough projects to engage all of their volunteers, but the opposite has proven to be true. "We've had a bunch of interest from organizations who need really quick turnarounds, sometimes even within a couple days," she said. 

Stephan Llerena, a rising 2L who is helping lead the effort, noted, "There is a lot of synergy between the task forces. We have a weekly call on Saturdays to review potential projects, intake more volunteers, and make sure we're executing on our mission."

Although the Corps has only been active since April, they already have seen some projects all the way through. Christopher Chorzepa, another rising 2L who is also part of the group's leadership, said, "We're trying to provide as much manpower as we can to help out with a variety of projects. For example, we are collaborating with local legal organizations to put together factsheets compiling resources for workplace safety precautions to take during the process of reopening." 

They also have worked with an individual who received a positive parole vote, but cannot be paroled without being transferred to a lower-level facility. Since there are no facility transfers during the quarantine, he was denied his parole, and the team has drafted a reconsideration petition. Volunteers are also collaborating with Michigan Law faculty members to index orders and pleadings to create a database of pandemic-era prisoners' rights litigation as a reference for attorneys.

Llerena has been busy with small business and unemployment projects. "Through the Workers' Rights Clinic we have been able to create and promote resources about frequently asked unemployment insurance and COVID-related employment questions, field intake calls, and help gather facts for the clinic's attorneys about individual unemployment insurance benefit claims."

In total, the group has more than 30 projects that are either in progress or completed, and several more that are in the pipeline. Chorzepa anticipates that there will be a great need for the group to help mitigate emergencies that arise from COVID-19. "Up until now, we've viewed healthcare workers as part of the few that are on the front line. But, pretty soon, a lot of people are going to be affected when they have trouble affording housing. And legal professionals will deal with the fallout."

Moncino noted that COVID Corps has brought students together during a time when they are physically separate. "When you're in school, it can feel like we're not in the real world. I think it speaks pretty highly of the Law School's reputation that our volunteers are getting projects that have a real impact. It's a good reminder that we're all being trained to serve as advocates—and this is a really great time to show up for our community."

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