Unemployment Law Project
Marisa Ordonia is working at the Seattle office of the Unemployment Law Project (ULP). The ULP has offices in both Seattle and Spokane, and provides free legal assistance and information to people in Washington State who have been denied unemployment benefits or whose award of benefits has been challenged. As an intern at ULP, Marisa has conducted client intake interviews, participated in case review meetings, researched legal theories, and provided direct representation at administrative hearings. Marisa is excited about this internship not only because she wants to defend the rights of workers, but also because of the skills she will gain as an advocate through representing claimants in administrative hearings.
July 2, 2012
I have completed five weeks of my internship and I have already learned so much at the Unemployment Law Project. I have done several client intakes, represented two claimants at administrative hearings, and I am currently working on a Petition for Review. I also wrote and submitted a subpoena for documents, and the employer responded by withdrawing its appeal, so my client continued to receive benefits.
During my first week at ULP, I was trained on procedures and ethics, and I observed client intakes and hearings. I began doing client intakes during the second week, and it was a steep learning curve, but I quickly learned how to focus the client’s story and my own questions to get the relevant information. At the end of each day, the whole office discusses the intakes and we determine which cases we will accept. It feels hard to reject a case, but I am comforted by the fact that nearly everyone gets free legal advice so they can be more prepared to represent themselves.
My first hearing happened four weeks in, and my client was amazing; since then I have had to deal with some more difficult personalities. Regardless, I am happy to be able to help people by researching and making legal arguments, as unemployment insurance allows people stay in their homes and put food on the table.
So far, I have had two wins (three if you count the employer withdrawal), but I know that it is not all about winning. Sometimes we accept cases that seem difficult to win because we feel that the claimant could benefit both from having legal assistance and having someone who will listen to their story. Also, every win is bittersweet, as we are only fighting to get the person unemployment benefits, and at the end of the day most of our clients are still unemployed in a difficult economy.
July 30, 2012
I have learned so much during my time here at ULP, and I highly recommend that students do internships where they can represent clients in administrative hearings. This is a great opportunity after 1L year since you do not have to be Rule 9 to represent claimants.
Everyone here has been so supportive, from the staff to all of my fellow interns. Part of that support has been sharing in outrage over injustice, and lamenting about how fundamentally broken so many of our systems are. This week has been particularly difficult, as I represented a homeless person and a victim of stalking who had both been denied unemployment benefits. It is difficult for me to accept that we have systems in place that are supposed to help people, but that fail so egregiously. But, as someone who wants to do social justice work as a lawyer, I guess I should get used to it.
This is my last week at ULP, and I will be finishing up a Petition for Review and doing one more hearing. Unemployment law is interesting because sometimes your best arguments are not based in case law. Being able to analogize your client’s situation to an existing and favorable case is great, but sometimes you just have to tell a sympathetic story. In some ways, this is more challenging because you have to guess at what the judge is looking for, but in a lot of ways it is infinitely easier than writing memos for legal writing.