Colleen Pe Benito

Colleen Pe BenitoUnemployment Law Project

Seattle, Wash.

Colleen Pe Benito is interning at the Unemployment Law Project (ULP) located in Seattle. ULP provides free legal services to individuals in Washington State who have been denied unemployment benefits or whose award of benefits has been challenged.

July 1, 2013

I have been working at the Unemployment Law Project for five weeks now and I have learned so much about unemployment benefits, the administrative hearing process, and an individual's rights to appeal a decision. I have lost count in how many client intake interviews I have conducted but I have definitely learned from each one. I have met so many inspiring and hardworking individuals whose stories and backgrounds have been both heartbreaking and empowering that it makes me hopeful in the work I am doing and why I wanted to go to law school in the first place.

During my first week at ULP I got to observe intake interviews, pre-hearing conferences, and administrative hearings. I had done intake interviews in past positions at organizations so I was not too worried about having to start doing them at ULP. However, the thought of representing clients in hearings made me so nervous. Luckily I had just taken evidence spring semester and was able to apply much of what I learned from that class to the hearings I observed and did on my own.

My first few intake interviews were challenging because I had to keep finding ways to get the client to focus on relevant issues regarding the employment separation. Since then I have developed ways to ask better questions to direct the client in the most helpful direction. I have interviewed clients who are soft-spoken and some that are more forthcoming with their situations. Regardless, I have tried to effectively listen to each client so I can write down all relevant pieces of information.

I have represented three claimants in administrative hearings so far. My first hearing ended up getting postponed but my client has continued to update me on the current status of his case. My second hearing went well and with the help of one of the staff attorneys here at ULP, I was able to ease my nerves and be well-prepared despite the case being a difficult one. Unfortunately I did not end up winning that case but my client still expressed his gratitude towards all the work I put into it as he called me a few days after receiving the administrative judge's decision. I have realized that I will not always win but the client more likely than not still appreciates what I did do to help. I look forward to meeting and helping more clients in the next weeks to come.

Aug. 13, 2013

It is the ninth week of my internship here at ULP and I'm happy to say that I’ve continued to learn so much in these past few weeks. As of now I’ve successfully helped 4 clients get their unemployment benefits. Some of the cases were cut and dry but others were significantly more difficult to work through.

Yesterday I got the decision from my first hearing which got assigned to me in the beginning of June but was postponed to July. It was especially rewarding to be able to call that client to let him know that he had won. He was initially denied his unemployment benefits and had been without income since May. He expressed so much gratitude and appreciation for me working on his case, believing in him, and representing him at the hearing. I was almost brought to tears at how happy he sounded over the phone. These clients are some of the most hard-working people I've ever talked to and the most deserving.

I have also had the opportunity to write a petition for review for a client. This client had already gone through the administrative hearing process and wanted to appeal the Administrative Law Judge's decision. Writing this PFR was particularly difficult because I was not present at the initial hearing nor did I have the recording of the hearing at hand when I began writing the PFR. Luckily I was able to meet with one of ULP's staff attorneys and he guided me in the right direction by pointing out some important factors in the ALJ's written decision. With about three days left until the PFR was due, I received the copy of the recorded hearing and was able to extract some important facts that were not included in the ALJ's decision. Having the copy of the record was also helpful in that I was able to cite to particular instances in the hearing to help support my argument that the ALJ erred in her decision. After two drafts which had also gone through the review and editing of ULP's director, I was finally satisfied with the PFR. I am glad I got the opportunity to write during this internship and I am equally as glad to know that my writing skills were not that rusty after all.

I have one week left here at ULP and I hope to represent at least a couple more clients in their hearings. This opportunity has been amazing and I never would have thought I would be involved in such a hands-on experience. I hope to continue to volunteer at ULP throughout this upcoming school year as I know I have much more to learn and many more deserving clients to meet.

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