Local lawyer launching traveling legal program

“If we’re scared here in Philadelphia, I can’t imagine what it’s like in Laramie, in Chatanooga, in small towns in Arkansas.”

Angela Giampolo is looking to combat the current tenor of the country by bringing free legal services to underserved LGBT people. Though Giampolo works with many LGBT clients through Giampolo Law Group, which has offices on 12th Street and in Mount Laurel, N.J., the out attorney is now looking to reach clients in need in more rural locations.

Giampolo has been working to bring her “Philly Gay Lawyer” initiative — through which she provides services such as name changes and family-building documents — nationwide, amassing lawyers in cities across the country to specialize in LGBT issues. While planning the summer launch of that for-profit venture, Giampolo said she saw a gap in services for marginalized LGBT populations who don’t live near big cities.

After speaking with several programs that provide mobile legal services on such issues as immigration, Giampolo conceived of the nonprofit Caravan of Hope, which is expected to set forth this summer. 

Through the initiative, Giampolo and other attorneys will travel to three towns in the region three times, meeting with and advising LGBT clients on a pro-bono basis, all from a mobile office housed in an RV.

“A few months ago, someone emailed me and asked to meet at my office at 7 a.m. because they didn’t want to be seen going into the Philly Gay Lawyer office,” she said. “People are still afraid, still closeted, and that’s here in Philly.” 

To contend with that element, Giampolo said she chose an innocuous name for the program and will not use signage that denotes the initiative is an LGBT-focused one. The RV will also not park directly in the town it is serving, but rather about a half-hour outside.

Giampolo intends to send a team of organizers out to the selected towns — which could be located anywhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as she is licensed to practice law in both states — ahead of time to get the word out about the program. Services could include everything from name and gender-marker changes to an adoption and divorce petitions to immigration assistance. The program will place an emphasis on LGBT people of color and transgender people, whom Giampolo noted are often especially marginalized in rural communities.

At the first meeting, clients will brief the attorney on their issue and learn what paperwork they will need to gather, which they will deliver at the second meeting, along with signing any requisite documents. By the third, Giampolo said cases should be filed and ready for hearings.

Since the November presidential election, Giampolo and eight other lawyers helped 50 people attain legal name changes on a pro-bono basis through her Transnomino project, she said.

She plans to gauge their and other attorneys’ interest, and is also exploring the possibility of law students participating for legal-clinic credit. 

The immediate goal is to attain the RV, Giampolo said.

After speaking with directors of other mobile legal-services program, Giampolo said she determined the cost of such a project will be about $50,000, which she’s looking to crowdfund (https://www.gofundme.com/caravanofhope). The money will support the purchase of the RV, its renovation and the branding. Giampolo is also working to get the message out to anyone who may be able to offer an RV at a reduced rate.

“For being so impactful, it is a low-cost budget; the biggest costs are all one-time things,” she said. “We won’t have to buy and convert an RV every summer. After that it’s just gas and paying organizers, and then it just runs itself otherwise.” 

While the program will only operate in the summer at the start, Giampolo intends it to eventually be a year-round venture and is also in talks with a production company about a documentary on the work. She is working on Caravan of Hope’s nonprofit application and said she envisions an executive director and board eventually helming the project.

She also anticipates working with LGBT lawyers across the country to help them establish their own regional Caravan of Hope programs.

“I want to take Philly Gay Lawyer out as far as possible, to people who otherwise would never be able to walk into my office,” Giampolo said.

For more information on Caravan of Hope, visit CaravanofHope.LGBT.