Clare Fitzpatrick

Clare FitzpatrickTacoma-Pierce County Volunteer Legal Services

Tacoma, Wash.

Clare Fitzpatrick is interning at Tacoma-Pierce County Volunteer Legal Services this summer. The mission of Volunteer Legal Services is to facilitate access to volunteer attorney advice and representation, as well as provide self-help materials and general legal information for low-income individuals who have civil legal needs in Pierce County, Wash.

July 1, 2013

I have been with Tacoma-Pierce County Volunteer Legal Services for one month. The organization provides legal services to low-income clients with civil legal issues. The office offers legal clinics in family law, foreclosures, landlord/tenant issues, bankruptcy, and expungements, among other things. There are also volunteer paralegals and legal assistants to support clients' access to the court system.

As a summer intern, I perform phone screenings, provide resources, schedule callers in appropriate clinics, shadow attorneys during legal clinics, and follow up with the clients who are completing their own paperwork. In addition, I work with non-English speaking clients to fill out their paperwork and accompany them to court to file.

By working with interpreters, I am slowly becoming more comfortable using my Spanish. I had a particularly successful exchange with one client a few weeks back. I walked him to the courthouse, which is about 10 minutes away, to file dissolution paperwork. We only spoke Spanish both there and back and it was the longest I have needed to carry on a conversation in years. I was very pleased with my ability and look forward to testing and expanding this skill more in future.

Through speaking with callers on the phone and participating in clinics, I am getting a breadth of exposure to legal issues. I am most excited to continue to apply the legal education I have received this first year to real issues. About two weeks into this experience, I began to feel comfortable and to see the things I have learned in the classroom fall into practical use. I look forward to continuing to expand my knowledge of the court system and my familiarity with the legal issues in my community. I also look forward to the many opportunities I have to shadow the volunteer attorneys during our clinics.

Sitting in on the client consults has been incredible, especially when they are clients I have helped since the first call, because I experience the entire process from client interview to tailored legal advice and referral. Each week reinforces my desire to engage in this line of work and become a strong advocate for my community.

Aug. 16, 2013

I am reaching the end of my summer internship with the Tacoma-Pierce County Volunteer Legal Services office. It has been an incredible growing experience and I am very grateful to the staff for having me and for allowing me to pursue several projects to further expand on this opportunity.

In the second half of the summer, I have become more involved in the pro se family law clinic. Through the clinic, I have worked closely with several clients, both providing them support during what is a very stressful time and offering them guidance through the court system. It has been truly rewarding to provide a service beyond the first consult. During follow-ups I have helped to review paperwork, accompanied clients to court, assisted them with filing, and sat with them in ex parte. My comfort in this role demonstrates how this experience has broadened my knowledge and overall comfort with the court system. I have continued to benefit from shadowing attorneys during the clinics, but I have become more involved and helpful in the latter half of the summer as my familiarity with the processes develops.

In my last few weeks, I have also had the opportunity to do legal research for one of the volunteer attorneys. This project has been a great chance to apply my legal writing skills. It has also been exciting to work closely with one of Volunteer Legal Services' attorneys and to provide more in-depth information for a client. In addition to the hands-on experience, this internship has introduced me to a wealth of local and state resources. I will move forward from this summer a better equipped advocate for social justice and inspired to continue working in the field of public interest law.

I cannot believe how quickly the summer has gone by. I will be sad to leave this office but I am excited to be able to volunteer with them from time to time during the fall semester. I have learned so much, made great connections, and am again grateful to the VLS office for welcoming me into their space this summer.

Court Level