WSBA’s Powerful Communities Project: Training and Tools

Diverse lawyers

This is part of our series on the WSBA Powerful Communities Project. To learn more about this project, check out “Distribution of Power: A Look at the WSBA Powerful Communities Project.” Project proposals for funds in 2020 are due by 5 p.m., Feb. 7; visit the Powerful Communities Project page to learn more and apply.

Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program—Investing Legal Services to Latinx Communities in Clark County

The Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program (CCVLP) provides legal services for civil matters ranging from bankruptcy to family law to elder law. CCVLP’s volunteer lawyers often travel to meet with clients where they are—for instance, at homeless day shelters since many lack dependable transportation options—and therefore depend on portable technology.

With support from the Powerful Communities Project, CCVLP purchased two laptops to better support the client communities and encourage volunteers to work remotely, which helps reduce barriers to services and increase accessibility.

“When we cannot do things in a ‘one stop shop’ setting, clients are far less likely to follow up,” CCVLP explained. “With the availability of mobile tech, attorneys are able to obtain all the background information they need, do research spontaneously, and provide appropriate forms during the visit.”

At a Latinx Legal Day event, for example, there was a gap from intake to client service as CCVLP clients had to schedule an appointment and follow up at the office. The increased mobile tech allows CCVLP to work with the client immediately. Additionally, the organization was able to use its remaining funds to hire an interpreter for the most recent Latinx Legal Day event in November and better meet the language needs of the community.

Family Law CASA of King County—Training a New Cohort of CASAs for South King County

Since 2002, Family Law CASA of King County has advocated for children in high-risk custody cases to give them a chance at a safer, more secure home life.

Through this project, Family Law CASA devoted more time and resources in South King County where many residents have been displaced due to the escalating cost of living, what the organization describes as a “concentration of poverty.” As a first step to provide more legal help in South King County, Family Law CASA developed a training program to educate and recruit more family law attorneys who could volunteer their time to people in need.

The organization held a Volunteer Attorney Training in September 2019 and educated six new volunteer attorneys (the training also qualified for three Continuing Legal Education credits). All six attorneys have already taken cases; on average, each volunteer attorney completes six cases per year, and the new volunteers are expected to provide a combined 288 free hours of services to low-income families. Family Law CASA plans to continue with further trainings in the future, building on the materials it has already developed: “This is vital for the families and children experiencing poverty and injustice, giving them equitable access to free, quality legal services.”

Seattle Clemency Project—Deportation Protections for Cambodian Refugees

Seattle Clemency
Seattle Clemency

The Seattle Clemency Project (SCP) matches volunteer lawyers to people who have been incarcerated for at least 10 years in order to give them a second chance. For this Powerful Communities Project, it put a special focus toward helping refugees under threat of deportation.

With some support from the Powerful Communities Project, SCP reversed final orders of deportation for three clients, all of whom are Cambodian refugees, and ensured they can stay in their communities. According to SCP, refugees make up about one-third of the 15,000 Cambodian Americans in the Seattle area, but in early 2019 the Department of Homeland Security “increased efforts … to target Cambodians.”

“The communities most vulnerable to over policing and the school to prison pipeline have the least amount of resources in fighting against mass incarceration.”

SCP has matched volunteer attorneys with at least two more clients and anticipates it will provide legal resources to another three low-income Cambodian refugees in the near future. Furthermore, SCP facilitated two lawyer-training sessions to educate and recruit new pro bono attorneys. The two events drew a combined 100 attendees and helped SCP develop stronger relationships with other community partners.

Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services—Mobilizing Legal Assistance to Underserved Counties

The volunteer lawyers of the Thurston County Volunteer Services (TCVSL) provide free legal advice and information on civil matters for low-income residents of Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, and Pacific Counties, and offer free evening legal clinics in Olympia, Shelton, Aberdeen, and now South Bend.

Compared to the state average, more residents of Pacific County live below the poverty rate (about 17 percent) and the median income for a Pacific County household is about $26,000 less than the statewide median, TCVLS said.

The Powerful Communities Project helped TCVLS support its newest legal clinic in South Bend. TCVLS purchased laptops, tablets, and printers so volunteer attorneys can easily provide onsite legal help at the new clinic and better meet the needs of a relatively isolated community. South Bend residents previously had to travel anywhere from 45 minutes to more than an hour to reach the next nearest clinic in Aberdeen, where demand is already high from local clients. The new equipment allows TCVLS volunteer attorneys to download and print forms onsite and complete summary notes from the consultation and add to a database, which reduces the burden on clients and helps attorneys focus on helping the client.

In the two months since TCVLS provided the new mobile tech, it helped more than 40 clients across its four clinics.