By Cynthia B. Jones
This month, we tip our hat to volunteer attorney Tom Armstrong, who has that rare combination of a light side that balances a serious one deeply committed to access to justice.
Armstrong volunteers at the KCBA's Housing Justice Project located in the Regional Justice Center in Kent, where he assists the clinic's low-income clients facing eviction.
"Tom has been a stalwart volunteer here at HJP/Kent for many years," said Harry Higgins, HJP program coordinator. "He handles his clients with professionalism and grace, and can always be counted on to get the best result possible. He has been reliable and flexible when it comes to filling his scheduled shifts, and is always enthusiastic when he is at clinic."
We engaged Armstrong in a little Q&A to find out more and discovered that he is a delightful conversationalist who enjoys reading obscure Supreme Court opinions and lives by Mark Twain quotes.
Q. What do the Pro Bono Legal Clinics mean to you?
A. The clinics offer those with little or no means the opportunity to get quality legal help. The corollary to this is that those who have the means, and can pay for legal representation, cannot just steamroll the less fortunate in the erroneous assumption that the less fortunate will have no legal advice or representation.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I read legal treatises and obscure U.S. Supreme Court opinions. Actually, since I have been retired for more than a year, I do anything I want. But, see also the next question.
Q. What is your favorite quote?
A. "Never put off until tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well." Mark Twain, December 1881. It's just as appropriate today as it was 131 years ago; especially if you're retired, as I am.
Q. What type of pet do you have?
A. I have four little dogs and one small bird. Plus, a girlfriend. The days I volunteer at Housing Justice Project tend to be less chaotic than when I have to ride herd on all the pets.
Q. Why volunteer at the Housing Justice Project?
A. It offers immediate help to those who are facing eviction. In many cases, all we can do is delay the inevitable. However, if the HJP wasn't there, those people would get no help at all. There is always the anticipation that a case will come where we can make a real difference and know that if we hadn't been there to help, it might have gone the other way.
Q. What do you find helpful about volunteering at HJP?
A. There is a lot of interaction between the staff attorneys, the volunteers and the legal assistants. Anytime I have a legal or strategic question, there is someone there who can provide meaningful input. If one had to go it alone, it would be much more difficult. Impossible, actually.
Q. What is your favorite food?
A. Popcorn or potatoes in (almost) any form. Or any other food not generally recognized as healthy or wholesome.
Q. Favorite law-related movie?
A. "My Cousin Vinny." A really great movie, and worth watching more than once. At least one of my professors in law school used scenes from this movie to illustrate courtroom procedure. Highly entertaining and informative, too.
Q. Must-have office supply?
A. White-out, in the handy, paragraph-sized spray cans. I'm sure the younger attorneys or anyone under 55 will have no idea what I am referring to. Actually, I've recently become quite fond of power staplers. And industrial strength paper shredders. Maybe white-out never came in spray cans, but there were times I needed it.
Q. What inspires you to volunteer?
A. The fact that I can help those who would not have any help at all in a very complex and confusing area of the law (residential landlord-tenant).
Q. What was your favorite class in law school?
A. Civil Procedure. No, really. Well, okay - Admin Law.
Q. What do you think the biggest challenge is in helping the clients who come to HJP?
A. The biggest challenge is being able to provide quality legal advice or representation in less than an hour or so. It is a stressful environment and I am constantly worried that I will not have considered all the legal avenues available to a client before the time is up.
Q. Do you have any words of advice for fellow volunteers, especially those among us who are relatively new?
A. Don't give up. The light at the end of the tunnel is not necessarily an oncoming train.
Cynthia Jones is an attorney with Jones Legal Group, LLC in Seattle where her practice focus is appellate advocacy.