Access to Justice - June 2017
The theme and message of this year’s ATJ Conference was “Racing to Justice: Community Lawyering to Bend the Arc.” My thoughts are we LTs fit right in to this conversation. There was a focus on collaborating across many seeming divides. The attorney – LLLT divide is another example.
Here are some snippets and reflections:
The biggest plus for me in attending the conference was the networking. As you will read, we visited with Supreme Court Justices, nonprofit attorneys – both supportive and not, Administrative Law Judges, WSBA Program Staff, and heard from a Congresswoman, the State Solicitor General, and access to justice leaders across the board. You can bet we didn’t pass up a chance to advocate for our license, and I feel simply by “showing up” we dispelled some of the mystery, if not all of the reservations.
LLLT Jennifer Ortega, and LLLT Candidate Sarah Bove, of LegalTap.org, put together a really great booth with informative displays of media reports, our bios, program information, and handouts, that garnered a good amount of interest and attention among conference attendees. The comments I heard while at the booth were positive and supportive, while still exhibiting a considerable lack of knowledge about our license.
My session, “Incorporating LLLTs Into the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid” was well-attended. Attendees included other LTs, Ellen Reed (who provided some valuable input), Judge Paul Bastine of Spokane who was very involved in developing the license and is serving his 2nd term (at least) on the Practice of Law Board, legal aid attorneys, and, if my memory serves me right, Geoffrey Revelle, Access to Justice Board Chair. I directed my presentation at the nuts and bolts of my contract with our local VLP, rather than re-plowing old ground about the license itself. I had 10 minutes, and then follow-up Q&As. It wasn’t possible to convey all the information I had planned to, so I hope it was of some help. The conversation in the Q&A did shift to what I found to be the biggest hot button issue in all my conversations at the Conference: LLLTs CAN NOW GO TO COURT WITH THEIR CLIENTS. Sheesh!
So…on going to court with our clients, and the reservations I heard about our license at ATJ, I will be blunt. We all know that the private bar has their concerns about us, which we understand to be in large part about competition (how many of us have heard “how will I ever pay off my law school debt?” A legitimate question.). Well, the non-profit bar - access to justice and legal aid attorneys - also have reservations, though this may seem counter-intuitive. The reservations I hear have to do with our qualifications and competence, for example (paraphrasing):
“I grade the LLLT exams and am struck by the poor writing.”
“I supported the license initially, but with the new enhancements – including going to court with clients – I feel the Board is chipping away at the original intent, and I don’t support those.”
“The exams (or curriculum) are too easy.”
“How can someone possibly be competent and earn a license to practice law through online classes?”
“Low-income persons will receive second class legal assistance, if they use an LLLT.”
“An unqualified LLLT could prejudice a pro se, where s/he would be better off going it alone, instead.”
Remember: these comments are not from the private bar, but from legal aid providers, who you would think would be our natural allies!
So, we have our work cut out for us. We’ve discussed here our “charm offensive,” and that is certainly critical. But I challenge each and every one of us to step up our professionalism (really speaking to myself here! ;) ). Whether thoroughly researching legal issues, affirmatively seeking out networking or learning opportunities, realizing that every contact we have reflects on all of us, in our drafting, knowledge of the nuances of our rule – whatever it means to you (and me), I return from ATJ with a new commitment to make sure I am doing right not only by my clients, but also by my license and the profession, as a whole. As Jennifer O. said, “we are in a fishbowl.”
Finally, in the same vein – both CJ Mary Fairhurst and Justice Madsen, both huge supporters, encouraged us to record and catalogue “good stories,” where our assistance to a client made a difference; where the clients shared their appreciation for our unique license and skill set; where a client was able to achieve an outcome with our help that would have been a struggle if not impossible without us; and also those stories where we sat in the courtroom with our hands tied – knowing that if only we could have given that client a little more help - including courtroom assistance, or communication with the other side – justice denied would have been justice served.
To that end, I also believe that the more we can strengthen our ties and communication here as fellow LTs, the better off we all will be. I think our discussion this morning about CR 11 and professional responsibility is a beautiful illustration of that.
Also to this end, I specifically requested Jennifer and Sarah to post this on LegalTap.org and link to it on this listserv. For now, LegalTap is our best repository and a central location where there is technology to store and organize our info…far superior to just this listserv. It will also be a place the Justices and others looking for good stories to convince the legal community of our value can go to, to find them. So, I also have a new commitment to learn about LegalTap, contribute resources there, and help refine it as a central meeting place for LLLTs.
Lastly I learned the following:
Laura Genoves is really cool.
Tamara Garrison is very kind and big-hearted.
Sarah Bove is super fun, funny, and smart as a whip.
Jennifer Ortega is a wonderful ambassador for our profession, given her friendliness and other fabulous social skills!