I recently had a moment in my practice that feels so elusive that it is no surprise I can recall it with such clarity: A client came to me with a question and I actually knew the answer off the top of my head. Even after practicing as a civil litigator for four years, I am not ashamed to admit that this is a rare occasion. But most of the time practicing law does not mean that you have all the answers; instead, it means you know how to find them.
Along with our bar numbers comes a presumption of competence in a wide variety of areas. Sometimes we elect to focus on a certain area of law over others. Clients may not have specific questions within that area, yet we still find a way to help them. Our ability to know how to look for answers is a valuable asset, and this basic tool can be essential to serving our paying clients as well as those who cannot afford a private attorney.
In October of last year, the YLD opened its Walk-In Clinic, housed at the Public Law Library of King County on the sixth floor of the King County Courthouse. The Clinic provides free legal services to pro se civil litigants on a walk-in basis. During 30-minute client sessions, attorneys have an opportunity to hone their existing skills while exploring areas of the law they may not reach during their hours in the office. The Clinic is staffed exclusively through the support of volunteers who are not afraid to expand their knowledge bases to ensure legal guidance is more accessible in our community.
Autumn Johnson works in business and nonprofit law with an emphasis on microenterprise. Johnson regularly volunteers with a number of KCBA's pro bono clinics, including the YLD Walk-In Clinic. She relies on her training in the office and in other clinics to assist clients with completing forms and informing them of other free legal resources. "The Walk-In Clinic is different from every other volunteer experience I've had," Johnson said. "It is the front line of legal aid."
Volunteer attorney Noah Weil's practice focuses on representing people charged with crimes, many of whom have never encountered the legal system before. Once a month he finds himself back at the courthouse, but far from a courtroom. "As a clinic volunteer," Weil said, "I use the same skills as those in my daily work, particularly client counseling and explaining technical documents and processes so they can be easily understood."
On the fourth Wednesday of each month, YLD Vice-Chair Lori Hurl leads a team of her colleagues from Betts, Patterson & Mines to the courthouse. For a few hours a month, Richard Ross, Dan Syhre, Eric Chavez and Hurl take a break from their litigation and insurance defense work to tackle the variety of issues facing the Clinic's clients. "I enjoy volunteering at the Walk-In Clinic because you are given the opportunity to make a lasting and meaningful impact on people who are in serious need of legal help," Hurl explained. "In just 30 minutes, you can make the legal system less complicated."
Clinic volunteer Carrie Kovacevich's three-year practice gravitates toward litigation, probate and estate planning. Kovacevich, who worked as a complex-litigation paralegal prior to becoming a lawyer, feels that "all of our clinic clients teach me something." She finds that volunteering at the Clinic supplements her legal training while also providing something more. "When people leave their session with answers and a roadmap," Kovacevich said, "they are so grateful for your help, and you can't help but feel more confident in your abilities as a lawyer."
The YLD Walk-In Clinic operates each Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Public Law Library of King County (sixth floor of the King County Courthouse in Seattle). If you are interested in putting your skills to use as a volunteer and perhaps gaining other skills in the process, please contact Skylee Robinson, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the Clinic Committee, whose next quarterly meeting is on September 16 from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the KCBA office.
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