Seattle Community Law Center
Anna Rendes is working this summer at the Seattle Community Law Center (SCLC). SCLC is a nonprofit legal aid organization dedicated to providing accessible legal advocacy to people living with physical and mental disabilities so that they may obtain the resources necessary to overcome barriers to financial and medical stability.
July 3, 2013
This summer I am working at Seattle Community Law Center (SCLC). When I was exploring different organizations to intern with, SCLC was particularly appealing because their mission and their method of achieving it is right up my legal alley.
My interest in the legal field started after college, when I worked in a supported living organization that serves clients with developmental disabilities. It was there where I first came to appreciate the obstacles adults with disabilities and mental illness encounter in accessing housing, employment, public benefits, and the justice system. Realizing the importance of advocacy and support within the system inspired me to attend law school. Since that time, I have sought opportunities in which I have been able to continue to explore the legal issues I encountered, while also allowing me to acquire skills that contribute to my development as an advocate. I think SCLC is absolutely the right spot for me in order to keep developing these skills and my knowledge base.
SCLC provides accessible Social Security advocacy to people with disabilities who are homeless or low-income The organization serves this population through two different projects that address different barriers at different stages in the Social Security system. The two projects are the Disabled Homeless Advocacy Project (DHAP) and Social Security Advocacy Project (SSAP). This summer, I am working with SSAP. SSAP's priorities are to provide legal advice, advocacy, and referral and direct legal representation to clients who are receiving or have received Social Security benefits and who are involved in disputes with the Social Security Administration regarding their eligibility for benefits.
One of the many cool things about SSAP is that the project prioritizes cases for which representation by a private attorney is not generally available. My supervising attorney is one of very few attorneys in the country who do this kind of work! One thing that is clear, even at this early stage in my internship, however, is that there is a huge need for legal assistance and representation in this area of Social Security practice. It is a complicated area of law and there is no attorney's fee associated with appeals in the Social Security system like there is for attorneys who assist people in claiming their benefits, so it is not likely that there will be many attorneys scrambling to fill this void anytime soon.
My earliest days at Seattle Community Law Center have been overwhelming, but in a very good way. There is so much to the Social Security system and I'm not quite sure how I am going to wrap my head around all of this, but I'm confident by the end of this summer I will have a pretty solid grasp on how and why this system works the way it does. My colleagues and supervisors have been great to work with so far and I know they will be great resources throughout the summer.
Aug. 16, 2013
There is only one week left in my internship and I can say confidently now, that this summer has been reaffirming for me; I really feel like going to law school was the right decision. I have definitely had my moments, particularly during the academic year, where I question if all this money I am paying for school is going to get me what I want out of a career. If my internship this summer is any indicator, it seems I have made the right decision. My summer has been the perfect balance of challenging, exciting, educational, and fun. No two days have been the same since I started but every day my legal education is serving me and, in turn, my clients well.
My days have consisted of practicing legal research and writing skills through writing briefs, records requests, and other documents; reviewing medical, educational, and hearing records for evidence to bolster my client's claims; leading the Overpayment Clinic; and performing general intake interviews over the phone.
The highlight of my day is interacting with clients. I love talking with folks about their questions and concerns relating to their cases, and even life in general sometimes. It's not uncommon to have clients break down in tears. I've been yelled at. I've had to add to clients' already high levels of stress by making the call and telling them that we are not able to take their case for representation. That stuff is not fun, but I am learning how to handle it well, not only for their sake, but also for mine.
More frequent than the tough stuff, however, are moments that have truly warmed my heart (sorry, cheesy but true.) Most clients have been so incredibly grateful for even the smallest things we are able to do for them. For our clients, losing a dispute with Social Security can mean losing their food and shelter. In addition to the high stakes, the Social Security system is not stacked in claimants' favor. It is a scary thing to try to navigate, even without some of the obstacles and barriers our clients encounter as a result of their disabilities. It is so awesome to realize that I have skills and knowledge that can make a difference during such a dire time in my clients' lives.
I feel like I have grown as an advocate this summer in part because of all the practice I have gotten, but also in part of the great examples of advocacy I see every day. My supervising attorney, the DHAP attorneys, and the executive director are all living embodiments of what an advocate can and should be. They are all very strong attorneys in their own rights, but they also work well as a team. We meet once every week for a staff meeting to discuss successes and challenges. We celebrate successes together and we all brainstorm solutions to challenges one of us might be having with a client, judge, field office, or case representative (I could go on!). Huge challenges are a daily occurrence here and I have watched the attorneys and paralegals manage and overcome them with tact and prudence. It is a very exciting and inspiring environment to work in.
I really cannot say enough great things about my internship this summer. If anyone has the slightest interest in the public benefits system and/or working with a very diverse population of clientele and/or working with an awesome group of passionate legal professionals, get involved with Seattle Community Law Center.