PILA Corner: Where Clients and Compassion Come First

Where Clients and Compassion Come First

By Andrea Lee, UW Law, JD Class of 2017

Interning at Open Door Legal Services (ODLS) is an experience I will never forget. Going into my 1L summer, I was unsure of many things, including the type of work that is done at legal aid clinics. Within the first couple of days, however, I knew I would enjoy every moment. A small clinic, there is one supervising attorney and two staff attorneys who do majority of the work, each attorney in charge of over 100 cases. The clients are mostly homeless, though some are low-income. They bring various legal issues, but the most prevalent include family law, court fines, and outstanding warrants.

Public Interest Lawyering Means Compassionate Lawyering

working_together_in_wilderness_therapyODLS has clinics three times a week at their office in Pioneer Square, once a week in Bellevue and once bi-weekly in Everett. Because ODLS is so small, they rely on the numerous volunteers who come throughout the week, most working with clients during these clinics. An attorney will meet with the client and listen to his or her story, essentially issue-spotting. The patience of these attorneys was most inspiring. I sat with the attorney and asked the client questions to give us a better understanding of their legal issues, hoping to prompt them in the right direction. I quickly realized that many of the clients simply wanted someone to talk to. Thus, instead of answering our questions or giving us facts, clients often “beat around the bush” or offered us their various conspiracy theories. Instead of stopping the clients from continuing, the attorneys patiently listened, smiling and nodding. Some of the clients were very difficult to work with but the attorneys never talked over them or made them feel inferior. It was evident that they were there because they genuinely cared for the clients and wanted to provide as much assistance as possible. Working with the volunteers encouraged me, knowing that I will be able to volunteer at places like ODLS, regardless of the type of work I pursue after law school.

Addressing Diverse Legal Issues

As stated earlier, typical legal matters include family law (child support in particular), outstanding warrants, court fines, and some immigration. Though immigration work is not as common as some of the other legal issues, I was fortunate to be able to work on a few cases during my short time at ODLS. One of the cases involved someone whom ODLS obtained a T Visa prior to my internship. I worked with the client and the client’s children to renew their work authorization. Being able to meet with them after reading their story gave me even more motivation and enthusiasm as I worked, even though I was simply filling out forms. I also worked on an asylum application, for which I was able to significantly contribute to the cover letter and research particular issues.

Coming Full Circle

It was a privilege to meet these clients and working for them was heartbreaking, yet rejuvenating. I was reminded why I came to law school and found joy in working directly with the clients. They keep me motivated during the toughest days in law school, and it’s promising to know that I will be able to do similar work with my law degree.

Photo credit:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Working_Together_in_Wilderness_Therapy.jpg