David Coombs

David CoombsSnohomish County Legal Services

Everett, Wash.

David Coombs is interning with Snohomish County Legal Services (SCLS) in Everett, Wash. SCLS is a free legal aid program serving Snohomish County residents experiencing poverty.

July 1, 2013

In my first month and a half with Snohomish County Legal Services (SCLS), the internship has given me the opportunity to serve a wide variety of clients and learn from passionate and knowledgeable attorneys. While my work has mostly been with SCLS's Housing Justice Project (HJP), assisting tenants facing eviction, I have also worked on family law cases both with staff attorneys and through SCLS's Family Law Clinic.

Housing Justice Project is a fascinating and tremendously beneficial experience for a legal intern. Most often, the first contact the HJP staff attorney and volunteers have with a tenant facing eviction is at the courthouse immediately before their show cause hearing. At this hearing, if the county commissioner issues a writ of restitution (the legal document allowing the sheriff to physically remove the tenant from their home), the tenant could be evicted as soon as the fourth business day following the hearing. HJP has only about about an hour and a half to interview the client, negotiate with the landlord or the landlord's attorney, and possibly represent the tenant at their hearing. While the time pressure is significant, this process provides a great opportunity to develop client interviewing and management, negotiating, and oral advocacy skills. Additionally, as a Rule 9 intern, I've been able to engage in the limited practice of law under the supervision of an attorney — allowing me to fully participate in each step of this process and making my experience even more valuable.

Thus far, while I have negotiated successfully with opposing parties, I have yet to have a case go to hearing. I am looking forward to the opportunity to go before the commissioner and advocate on behalf of a client before the end of the summer.

HJP makes a significant difference in tenants' lives by often being able to secure significantly better outcomes for tenants than they would be able to achieve on their own. For example, HJP negotiating a delay in a tenant's eviction date by a few days can mean the difference between a tenant having enough time to find a new residence and homelessness. Or HJP successfully arguing for the dismissal of an eviction action at hearing can make it more likely that a tenant is able to maintain or re-obtain public housing benefits.

Aug. 16, 2013

With my internship concluded, my time at SCLS has allowed me to develop practical lawyering skills while serving the legal needs of clients who would otherwise be unlikely to receive necessary legal assistance.

This summer, through HJP and Family Law Clinic, I worked with dozens of clients, often with limited time to devote to each client. Under these circumstances, client management is vital. Allowing the client to feel respected and heard while gathering the legally relevant facts, assessing credibility, and managing expectations, all in the context of emotionally charged proceedings such as an eviction or a custody dispute, requires significant skill and experience. By learning from my supervising attorneys and working directly with clients, I've begun to develop the knowledge and ability required to successfully balance these variables.

Additionally, becoming familiar with tenants in the eviction process who cannot afford legal representation has impressed upon me the vital, but underfunded, role that civil legal aid plays in our adversarial legal system. Often, tenants are under the mistaken impression that if they simply have their day in court, and are able to tell their side of the story, the judge or commissioner will find in their favor and stop their eviction. Clients rarely have the basic understanding that their story is not enough — they must make a legal argument. As a result, pro se tenants often have little chance at successfully challenging their eviction even though, in Washington State, the landlord/tenant statues are construed in favor of the tenant. In this context, the most basic legal assistance from a legal aid attorney, in the form of a hour of limited representation, can often secure a significantly better outcome for a tenant.

And during my internship I was able to secure better outcomes for many clients such as more time to vacate or a reduced judgment. However, HJP in Snohomish County is currently only funded for three days a week. With homelessness (and its ancillary costs to society) often at stake, better access to legal assistance for tenants is a necessary and worthwhile investment.

My time with SCLS has affirmed my desire to make increasing access to justice a priority for my career after law school, either by volunteering in a pro bono capacity or working as a staff attorney with a civil legal aid organization. In the meantime, I will continue to volunteer as a Rule 9 intern throughout my 3L year for SCLS, assisting low-income clients and building my lawyering skills.

Court Level