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Volunteer Spotlight Published June 26, 2023

Evan Caplan and James Mulcahy

Meet June’s Volunteers of the Month: Evan Caplan and James Mulcahy, a litigation attorney and paralegal at Cozen O’Connor. We talked with this pro bono duo about their volunteer work with Philadelphia VIP, which is focused on securing name changes for low-income Philadelphians.

 What motivates your pro bono work with VIP?

Evan (left): Access to the court system is daunting to most people. It’s particularly difficult for those who have never been in court, especially people with disabilities or low-income individuals. I felt that I could do the most good by helping people in these spaces where I already had experience.

Jim: Cozen O’Connor is also very supportive of pro bono work and giving back to the community.

Evan: I told VIP years ago: Whenever you get a name change case, send it our way, because once we learned how to do them, the process was repeatable and something we could do for a large number of VIP clients.

Jim: When we get these cases, I feel like a dog with a bone. I’ll do whatever needs to be done.

Can you recall any especially memorable VIP cases?

Evan: They’re all special to me. The clients we serve are really gratified when we get an outcome for them. They are the happiest and most cooperative people, and it’s an honor and privilege to work with VIP and serve these clients in a way that makes a real difference.

Jim: I have one client that stands out. We got a case for a transgender person who needed to get a new birth certificate. After some delays, I called this client to let them know they could pick up their birth certificate. I still remember them saying, “Now I can go to the DMV.” This document helped the client feel more valid and secure as a person. It changed them and it changed me for the better.

What do name changes and pro bono work mean to you?

Jim (right): We get internal emails now asking for advice on name changes, so that must mean we’re doing something right.

Evan: People attach meaning to these name change petitions. They’re very personal. But the reasons for name changes really run the gamut. People need to change their names to adapt to a set of religious convictions, confirm their gender identity, or simply be able to work.

What helped bring me into the fold of this work is that this change of name allows clients to get access to vital things, including healthcare and medical benefits, public housing, and a driver’s license. Name changes are a vital cog in the wheel of justice and are often overlooked simply because people don’t know how to do it.

Jim: It is really rewarding because every client has their own story, and all of them are different. Handing them a legal document like an amended birth certificate feels like crossing the finish line.