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Ascendium assists legal aid program with expanding access to free legal help

Supporting organizations that share our commitment to helping people achieve success through education and workforce training is always rewarding. But it’s even more meaningful when our own staff helped start that organization.

Ascendium has recently been assisting Lawyers for Learners, a legal aid program founded by Ascendium’s Legal team, technical colleges and several legal aid organizations, in expanding across Wisconsin. Lawyers for Learners works with technical colleges to connect students and community members facing legal issues with legal professionals who meet with them for free to answer questions and provide advice. With the expansion, even more people will have access to the legal help they need to stay on the path to achieving their academic and career goals.

The inspiration for Lawyers for Learners originated with Ascendium’s Dash Emergency Grant program, which worked with technical colleges to provide financial assistance to students facing unexpected expenses. Seeing how successful that program was in helping people stay in school, Rebecca Rapp, Ascendium’s general counsel and chief privacy officer, wanted to try something similar, but with a legal bent. “Similar to the Dash Emergency Grant program, providing people with legal assistance can help them overcome challenges that would force them to drop out of school or prevent them from pursuing certain career paths,” she said. “Working with schools to provide legal assistance seemed a natural step. They are key partners in helping people identify legal issues and connect with legal resources. They can also provide technical infrastructure for people who lack good phone or internet service to connect with attorneys virtually, which is particularly important in rural areas.”

What started as a partnership with Madison College and Milwaukee Area Technical College in the fall of 2019 has since expanded to nine technical colleges across Wisconsin almost two years later. The colleges that participate in Lawyers for Learners commit to training staff to identify potential legal issues, sharing information about Lawyers for Learners and providing campus space for in-person appointments and technology for virtual appointments.

Anyone in Wisconsin, regardless of whether they’re a student or their college participates in Lawyers for Learners, can request legal assistance through the new Lawyers for Learners website, which was launched in August 2021 with help from Ascendium. Ascendium also helped rebrand the program as Lawyers for Learners, created communications for colleges to share with their students, staff and surrounding communities and set up a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Plans already exist to continue expanding the reach of Lawyers for Learners over the next year.