Unemployment Law Project
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, went to high school in Ireland, and came to the US for college. I went to school at Washington University in St. Louis to study Architecture, and Purdue University to study photography. Then, after working for the University of Texas, I started law school at Seattle University.
I am interested in working with our community, and my job at the Unemployment Law Project is exactly what I have been looking for. We get to help people who have trouble securing their unemployment benefits. As interns, we get to interview clients, learn about their story, and to represent them in court hearings in front of a judge. Sometimes, we will even have the opportunity to write a petition for review. It is an important experience because not only do we get to work with everyday people, but also we get to experience the full dynamics of a courtroom. As interns, we are able to direct- and cross-examine parties, as well as provide closing statements in front of a judge. These are valuable lessons to prepare us to step into the world of litigation. With what we have learned in school, and sometimes actually doing what we will be learning in school, we get to formulate strategies of questions to secure unemployment benefits for our clients; how awesome is that?
June 26, 2012
Drizzling and cloudy for a start, arrived at the office.
8:30am: Walked in office, first one to be there I thought, switch on all lights, realize someone is already in a closed office conducting a hearing, wondering who that was. Need to worry about my own hearing in less than an hour.
830 to 8 45: Finalizing my questions to ask my client, in front of the judge
8:55: Called my client and consolidate my final changes on my questions for her. She was still excited about some of the events that have taken place. I assure her that we are all the way for her. End of conversation. I like my client, even when she was agitated, I could sense a smile on her face.
9:10: Boss asked me if I was ready for my hearing (in 20 minutes), and I said: "I am ready to take on the whole empire by myself."
9:20: I went in the conference room, Boss came in and gave me a final few pointers, including an objection about hearsay evidence. He will remain with me in the hearing to observe. Think about this……I am on my own.
9:28: We dialed in, and waited….
9:33: Judge showed up looking for the opposing party, who is MIA at the moment. Judge asked us to wait for 10 minutes.
9:40: Judge showed up again, and opposing party was still not there. Judge convened the hearing without opposing party. Of course, as Boss has trained me to do, I made my objection to hearsay evidence (if admitted, it will be a road block for us), the judge agreed and sustained – first “SUSTAIN” in my life!!!
9:57: Judge finished all the questions for my client and immediately went for closing argument. Boss gave me two thumbs up, and I delivered my closing. Judge called for adjournment of this hearing at 9:57am. Boss immediately told me that we have a good chance of a verdict for our client, walked out of the hearing room, and asked me to call the client to debrief. Meanwhile, I remained in the room by myself and did just that. As I was calling my client, one of our colleagues walked outside our room and gave me thumbs up as he passed by. Boss must have told him what has just happened. I got my client on the phone again and I also told her that we did okay; also, if we win this case, as a standard procedure, she will be receiving a letter in which we will be asking for donation. I explained to her that any donation enables us to help people like herself who stumbled across the maze of unemployment. She smiled, and said she would definitely do it, and she was appreciative of what we have done for her.
10:00: Shaken, rattled, and rolled, and I am living the moment, no different from walking out of any examination at the law school. Outside the conference room Boss asked me to reiterate my first sentence from my closing argument, I think he might have liked it.
10:30: Finished tidying up my desk from my client’s paperwork from the hearing of this morning, and getting ready for another hearing for tomorrow. I need to start writing the closing ASAP……just like cramming for any exams.
11:30: A fellow SU intern came out of an intake (initial interview of client). I heard “it was two hours, and she (our client) could not stop talking very loud.” Everyone started to talk about what [the intern] has gotten herself into.
12:00pm: Weekly Staff Meeting: We talked about our annual event for tomorrow how donors and what local attorneys will attend, then we moved onto what has been happening in the last week at our offices…..Of course I got to talk about my hearing of this morning. I said, "Our opposing party was very cooperative and did not show up…"; everyone chuckled.
12:20: Went to lunch, people asked me where I was going, my standard answer “Chinatown”. With all the FREE King County Transit available to go to Chinatown, there is really no excuse for me not to have Chinese food considering there were a time that this was not even an option for many years. Oh by the way, today was fried BBQ pork and egg, on rice.
1:20: Came back from lunch, and as I was travelling in Sound Transit, came up with this idea that I should expand my experience of today as my journal entry for the PILF.
1:45: Fellow intern having trouble inputting data about her "2 hour" intake, the computer system would not save her data, I walked over to see what was going on, and she was telling all of us that she tried saving it five times and the computer disobeyed her order. Then someone muttered: "Even the computer doesn’t like our new case."
2:00: Continue to prepare questions for my hearing tomorrow, as well as a closing argument. I will be dealing with corporate attorney tomorrow; first one ever, just like everything on the job.
3:00: I called up my client for a final round of preparation. She said she was nervous, but with pointers to go on, she came through as well. Again, I could sense another smile on the phone.
3:35: Boss walked around and showed us Xerox copies of court papers from a client. It appeared that a chunk of the court papers were torn off. On the remains of the document, there was handwriting stating that information from missing chunk of paper not available because it has been bitten out by a dog. Boss said this is "real life".
4:00: Our daily case review, where we will discuss today’s intakes and decide on which cases we should be taking on. Stranger than fiction today; firings for taking drugs, using company money, or just being plain rude. Topping it all off, my fellow intern elaborated on her case with the two hour intake, and the potential client sincerely expressed that English is not even her first language! Out of seven cases we reviewed, only one of them was accepted. Generally it is a good thing to have lots of acceptances, for those clients who we have successfully defended will possibly donate and support our operation.
5:00: Hurried up, finishing today’s entry, need to rush to class…..Sun is out again. Sun Sun, here we come.
As I dashed out into the hallway, a tall undergraduate intern happened to leave at the same time. As we shared the elevator on our way out, she was asking how I can make it to class on time when I have less than 1 hour to take the bus to school; I assured her that I have experimented enough to make it possible. She told me that she is studying for the LSAT and want to get into law school. LSAT, what a blast from the past…!!!!
July 30, 2012
At my leisure hours, I enjoy playing squash, and it has been one of my favorite sports for many years. Most often after a game, people might ask me this question, “did you have a good game?”, and generally out of positivity and politeness, I would reply: “yes, it was a good game.” But it wasn’t until this summer, I worked for the unemployment law project, I would define what a “good game” should be.
When we play a game, the objective is always to win. However, we truly can have a good game even when we lose. Win and lose may just be an outcome which in times we overemphasized. I much rather preferred to judge a good game by quality of shots traded, visible expenditure of our opponent, and levels achieved when we pushed ourselves in securing a win.
Point in case is that, sometimes we can spend countless hours preparing a strong case for our client, with excellent cooperation from them, we would win a case simply by default because our adverse party withdrew their case. On one hand we have won and secured benefits for our clients, something that is worth celebration; on the other hand the game was not carried out – no game. How can we have a good game when no game actually took place?
At the unemployment law project, we had opportunities to represent our clients to attend hearing, where we can exercise knowledge that we learned from school and apply it. Most often our clients seek our help to represent them in court hearings because their unemployment benefits were denied, or their former employer disagrees with the fact that our client should receive any unemployment benefit. I think of court hearings as a trial where we would get to play the role of an attorney. As legal interns, we will get to interview our clients, get to know their story. If we decide to represent them, we will rehearse with our clients with our prepared questions, as well as anticipation of questions from adverse parties. In the real hearing, we will get to perform direct examinations, cross examinations, and closing arguments.
In the game of squash, good quality shots have to be traded. A good player would visualize what a shot would lead to. It may be an instant win, or it may just be a setup shot for the winning shot. Translated to everyday work at the Unemployment Law Project, during direct and cross examinations, every question is intended to bring out or lead to a point. Crafting cross and direct examinations questions are just the same, good quality questions will draw out sharp points of our argument, expose weaknesses of our opponents, and hopefully we will put it away and win the point..
In the game of squash, if I had good quality shots, my opponent should be running all over the court to retrieve my shots, and my goal is to always have a good reply. Similarly in a court hearing, when we were being cross examined, we would have prepared the best answers possible for our anticipated questions. In other words, we will always have good answers and let them exhaust themselves through their own questioning. When it is our turn to perform cross examinations, our questions should displace our opponents. They will have to work hard to get back in an advantageous position, and think hard to come back with a good answer. if I have done my job, my opponent should be exhausted.
If we have done everything right, we will be trading, good shots, work hard to win the point, and even pushed our skills to another level. Because each of us wants to win so bad, we have to come up with new shots that aren’t in our repertoire, and to do things that we thought were impossible. In our hearing, since every case is unique, we will have to come up with new ways to present our case, in times, we will have to come up with good objections to block those attacks on our clients. If we lose the hearing, we might even push it as a Petition for Review, which is to ask the court to take a second look at the case. Just like life, we can be learning something new everyday, and life is an endless journey of learning.
As I am writing this entry, it is my last week at the Unemployment Law Project, my goal is to take on as many hearings as I could. It has been fun learning how a real life court operates. More importantly, I got to talk to and even know some of our clients, and represent them by becoming a part of the justice system. I have never tallied up my number of wins or losses, but if I have played a good game, our clients should be receiving their unemployment benefits.