Well, cue the Oscars’ music, my time on this stage is drawing to an end. Before the “wrap-up” music starts, I need to get through my list of gratitude, but recognize that I cannot possibly acknowledge all of the individuals who contributed to our success this past year.
First, gratitude to our pro bono volunteers, KCBA staff, KCBF and our many community partners who are dedicated to providing legal services to some of the most vulnerable members in our community. The King County legal community gives generously of its time. For example, more than 200 individuals completed our new volunteer orientation this year. Those attorneys, Rule 9 interns, paralegals and law students will join our roster of more than 1,300 volunteers in our pro bono programs.
KCBA continues to see the greatest need in family law and housing law matters. In March, our pro bono programs carried approximately 1,400 open pro bono cases. Of those cases, 60 percent of the matters involved housing or family law issues. In fact, the number of clients seeking assistance from our Housing Justice Project (HJP) has grown by approximately 40 percent over last year. HJP volunteer attorneys advise and represent individuals who face eviction and are available for a face-to-face consultation at both the Seattle and Kent courthouses, five days a week.
I recently met two lawyers who volunteer at HJP. Parker Reynolds enjoys advising HJP clients who could find themselves homeless but for the services provided by HJP. Parker makes a point to volunteer on the same day of the week at the same time, which occasionally allows her to meet multiple times with the same client.
By seeing the same client, Parker develops a strong relationship of trust, and the client can spend less time repeating the history of the case and can focus on the most immediate developments in the case. The passion with which Parker speaks about volunteering is inspiring and her commitment to a career in legal services is our community’s gain.
Some clients do not have the ability to meet multiple times with a pro bono attorney before their court hearing. Another volunteer at HJP, Yuhong Li, started volunteering for HJP in October 2014, first serving as a Rule 9 intern and then, in fall 2015, as an attorney. KCBA recognized Yuhong in October in our Bar Bulletin Volunteer of the Month profile.
I met Yuhong at our new member appreciation function and was impressed with the thoughtfulness with which he described his approach to volunteering. He described cases in which he quickly got up to speed to help clients whose hearing occurred on the same day that they walked into HJP. He provides clients with advice on the immediate next steps in the legal process, but also identifies long-term consequences of the decisions made.
Parker and Yuhong are just two of our many dedicated volunteers, some of whom have volunteered for decades and some of whom volunteer every day.
Second, I must express gratitude to the KCBA Board of Directors, the Young Lawyers Division (with a particular acknowledgement to YLD Chair Peter Talevich), our committee and section chairs, and the KCBA staff for the thoughtfulness with which we approached both governance and public policy issues. I have used this column to discuss the public policy issues that the Board has adopted. We continue to do right by KCBA’s origin story by taking public policy positions that advance our mission.
Some of the policy positions addressed by the Board this year include:
Resolution in support of referendum and initiative reform. A subcommittee of the Public Policy Committee spent three years studying the state’s initiative process and prepared a 40-plus page report analyzing and assessing potential reforms to the initiative process, including expansion of timelines, improvement to the precertification process and other reforms intended to strengthen and streamline the ballot initiative and referendum processes.
Resolution in support of systematic approach to legal financial obligations. The Board passed a resolution to support policy, process and legislative changes to end the circle of poverty when LFOs are imposed on defendants who lack the ability to pay. The resolution calls for changes to the legal system so that defendants would not be ordered to pay LFOs unless there had been an individualized assessment that the defendant has the ability to pay.
Amicus briefs. Two years ago, KCBA adopted an Amicus Brief Policy that created clearer guidelines to assist litigants who might request that KCBA submit an amicus brief. Since the adoption of the policy, KCBA has approved the filing of two amicus briefs, both in the area of housing issues. The two briefs filed in the two years since the relaunching of the Amicus Committee matches the number of amicus briefs filed in the prior 20-year period.
Creation of Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force. KCBA adopted a resolution to create a Juvenile Justice Reform Task force to identify legal barriers in our system that may contribute to the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.
In addition, the Board undertook a number of steps to improve corporate governance. We reviewed, discussed and proposed a restatement of the bylaws, which the membership passed on May 5. We examined our own corporate governance structure and will look to use these processes as we finalize the strategic plan.
Lastly, thank you to KCBA Executive Director Andrew Prazuch. His commitment to the success of KCBA and to keeping our organization vibrant is truly inspired. KCBA celebrates its 130th anniversary this year. The future of the legal profession is evolving and I am certain that KCBA will continue to be at the forefront guiding our legal community through growth and change.
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Kim Tran is the president of the King County Bar Association. She is in-house counsel with Microsoft’s Global Employment and Migration Law Group. She can be reached at 425-705-7609 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are her own and not of her employer, Microsoft.
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