Housing Justice Project
Robert Sepler is an intern with the Housing Justice Project's Kent office. The Housing Justice Project (HJP) is administered by the King County Bar Association's Pro Bono Services and is a volunteer-based eviction defense clinic for low-income residential tenants.
July 1, 2013
The first month at the Housing Justice Project's (HJP) Kent Office has been incredible and has thus far exceeded all of my expectations. From day one all of the HJP's staff and volunteer attorneys have been incredible in allowing me to completely dive into the material. Going into the internship, I thought that I would not have the chance to do anything substantive for the first several weeks. This was definitely not the case; by the end of the first week I was drafting court motions and helping to represent clients in show cause hearings!
This summer I am one of two summer legal interns at the Housing Justice Project's office at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Wash. The internship encompasses two components. The first is my responsibilities at HJP's morning walk-in legal clinic. Every morning from 8-10:30, HJP staff and volunteer attorneys meet with low-income residents of King County who are facing eviction. As an intern, my responsibilities at the clinic are diverse. I perform intakes with the clients and then brief the attorneys on the background and facts of the case as well as the clients' goals. After intakes, I shadow the attorney who was assigned to the client. The morning clinic is often the one thing standing between our clients and certain eviction; it has been incredibly rewarding to be a small part of helping a low-income family keep a roof over their heads.
The second component of my internship takes place in the afternoon after the clinic wraps up. During the afternoons, I assist HJP staff volunteers with legal research and writing projects. These projects all stem from legal questions that arise during the course of the morning walk-in clinics. Each HJP intern is paired with a staff attorney to help them out with their respective areas of responsibility. I have been paired with Jacob Wicks, who provides continuing legal representation to clients who are renting housing that was recently foreclosed on. As Jacob's intern, I have helped draft legal documents for his cases, including motions to dismiss and settlement offers. Currently, I am compiling a quick reference binder on the law surrounding tenants in foreclosure, which volunteer attorneys can use during the morning clinic to quickly get up to speed on the law if a client comes in who is living in foreclosed property.
My favorite thing about working at the HJP is being able to follow a case from start to finish. Most of the clients who come into the clinic have been summoned to a show cause hearing later that day, meaning that HJP staff and volunteers need to work on an accelerated timeline. We need to interview the client, gather evidence, negotiate with opposing council, and then go into court within a couple of hours. The result is that working at the HJP is fast-paced, exciting, and different every day I come into the office. I love it!
Aug. 7, 2013
The summer has just flown by at the Housing Justice Project. As I sit here heading into the last week of my internship I can only reflect on how my experience has helped me grow as a person and as a future attorney. The Housing Justice Project's Kent Office brings together compassionate attorneys and low-income residents of King County who could otherwise not afford an attorney. On paper the formula looks simple: pair a volunteer attorney with a walk-in client and voilà, the problem is solved. After three months at HJP I can see the naivety in approaching what goes on in the clinic that simplistically.
I do not want to diminish the role that HJP’s volunteer attorneys play in helping improve the lives of the less fortunate members of our community. However, I was confronted every day at HJP with the simple fact that Washington State's Landlord-Tenant laws were written for the landlords. Sure the legislator threw a few crumbs to the tenants here and there, but by and large landlords get what they want and the tenants — who may hold the moral high ground — are thrown out on the street.
The most difficult part of my internship was coping with the realization that the law is tilted against those HJP is trying to help. Again, I want to re-emphasize that HJP staff and volunteer attorneys are doing an amazing thing and truly do make a difference in peoples' lives. It has just been difficult to recognize that our state legislature has rigged the game in such a way that a victory at HJP is winning the client an extra week of housing even when morally they probably deserve another three months.
The most important thing I learned at HJP is that law is powerful. Even though HJP's legal victories might seem small when compared with what our clients deserve morally, the donation of attorneys' time consistently gives our clients exponentially more housing time than they would have been able to achieve by themselves. The eviction process is a complicated morass designed predominately by the landlords. Without a legal navigator, HJP's clients would be lost. Even though HJP victories might seem small, that extra time housed can give clients the time to collect that last rent payment and find a new place, move out, or negotiate with their landlord to remain.
My time at HJP has reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a legal career involving public interest law. Although I may not exclusively dedicate myself to the public interest, I know I will consistently volunteer a large chunk of time towards providing pro bono legal services and I hope to continue to be involved in HJP's mission throughout my legal career.