Student Spotlight: Wantee Ramkaran
Third year student Wantee Ramkaran is helping New Yorkers who need legal assistance due to the COVID pandemic through her pro bono job at LiveHelpNY. Wantee has worked with LawHelpNY, an agency that provides information on legal rights, free legal aid offices, going to court, and other self-help information for low-income people in New York State, since her first semester in law school. After she completed the required pro bono hours for graduation, she decided to continue working for the agency because she was gaining valuable experience and honing her skills. Since the COVID-19 global pandemic, the nature and the volume of the work has changed drastically. She is proud to be providing assistance to fellow New Yorkers in need.
Wantee stated, “I think my experience with LawHelpNY during the COVID-19 pandemic is unique. Since LawHelpNY is a web-based agency, my original plan was always to work remotely. However, the pandemic changed the nature of some of the projects I was expected to complete. When social distancing policies were first enacted, many offices were closed but LawHelpNY and their LiveHelp Operators were available to assist and answer questions. There has been a higher volume of people seeking LawHelpNY for assistance. I am glad that I am available to do pro bono work during these times and step up when there is an extra need for help.”
She states those seeking assistance are facing a plethora of problems such as family and safety issues, workers’ rights issues, and housing issues. “Since we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis, no one was prepared for the legal issues that we are now facing and the issues that we will continue to see in the future,” she stated.
Wantee is confident the experience she has gained is preparing for a legal career. She commented, “In addition to learning about different areas of the law, I also learn how to communicate with clients. I am developing strong interpersonal skills and cultural competency. I believe cultural competency is pivotal in being an effective pro bono lawyer. I think it is important for a lawyer to be able to genuinely connect with their clients and build a rapport. Being kind and caring to individuals seeking pro bono assistance is just as significant as the legal assistance that is being provided. Since many of these individuals are facing hardships, they are also in need of someone to provide emotional support.”
Wantee Ramkaran knew she wanted to pursue a career that would enable her to help people. She originally thought it would be a career in medicine, but after completing a high school internship at a criminal court, she discovered law was her calling.
Wantee’s parents immigrated to America about 30 years ago in search of a better life. Her parents worked hard to ensure she got the best educational opportunities possible which inspired Wantee to become a first-generation college graduate and, soon, law school graduate as well.
While in law school, Wantee found that pro bono opportunities were a good way to extend her learning beyond the classroom and a useful way to hone skills she thinks are critical for practicing lawyers. Wantee applied to the Pro Bono Scholars program, which allows students in their final year of law school to devote their last semester of study to performing pro bono service for the poor through an approved externship program, law school clinic, legal services provider, law firm or corporation.
Wantee stays positive and looks for the good every day. She has found that technology and remote legal services can play a major role in enhancing access to justice for low-income individuals. She states, “After the pandemic is over, I hope that there is a continued focus on how technology can help make legal services readily accessible for low-income individuals.”