Moderate Means Program
Michael is a student fellow with the Washington State Bar Association Moderate Means Program at Seattle University. The Moderate Means Program works to provide access to lawyers to individuals falling between 200% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level by working with attorneys who agree to work on a sliding fee scale. The Moderate Means Program covers a wide range of civil issues focusing on: Consumer Law (bankruptcy, contract disputes, and auto issues); Family Law (dissolutions, modification of support orders and parenting plans, and adoption/parentage issues); and Housing Laws (landlord/tenant disputes, evictions, and foreclosures) in the hopes of acting as a catchall for a wide range of issues facing people of moderate income. Michael will conduct client intakes where he will speak directly with clients to ascertain their legal issues and attempt to quickly pinpoint solutions to their issues. Further, Michael will work with Moderate Means Program participating attorneys to find willing attorneys to represent clients. Finally, he will work to update training materials for new interns, focusing on creating guides and flow charts for how to resolve various civil issues, citing specific laws and standards used in court. This position is helpful for Michael because it grants him invaluable experience interacting with both clients and attorneys in a fast paced, intense environment while helping Michael learn relevant rules and standards for a wide range of common civil issues.
July 3, 2012
The six weeks I've spent at the Moderate Means Program have been hectic, and I mean that in the best of ways. When I came into the office, we had a massive backlog of clients who needed to be contacted and have their issues addressed. I would spend an average of 4-5 hours a day it seemed on the line with clients discussing their various legal issues and making note of particular issue areas to bring up to our participating attorneys. This kind of rapid fire “triage” approach to solving legal issues can be challenging at times, but should prove useful down the road as I plan to work in public defense, another field in which you have to be able to quickly identify issue areas on the fly. Working in such intense conditions has really helped me learn to sift through large amounts of information with clients and focus on the very important details to the case, and I have to say, it feels great when you spot the important issue and know that you can help the client.
Everything hasn't been fun and games though, and some of the clients I work with have been very difficult to deal with. Sadly, a lot of people who seek legal aid and are of modest income often feel as though they are shuffled around various organizations and that no one wants to hear them out or help their issues, and can become agitated when being told "we can’t help you." As such, rejecting clients is one of the hardest things to do at the Moderate Means Program; it never feels good telling someone "no," and even if you are simply following protocol it still hurts when you hear someone sound defeated. Thankfully, Washington State offers a wide range of services, from CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral) to WashingtonLawHelp.org, to various county Volunteer Lawyer Programs, which exist to serve these very low income clients. My goal is to never leave a client empty handed and will always provide referrals to these organizations, even if I regrettably have to reject them.
Still, despite the unpleasantness of rejection, speaking and working with clients has been an absolute treat and nothing feels better than hearing the relief in a client’s voice when they know there is a lawyer who can help them with their issues. In my short time here, I’ve helped clients: in divorce matters where the client was a victim of domestic violence; stave off improper evictions; work through bankruptcies; and with issues of livability in a home.
On top of all of this, I've received lots of training on various legal issues and had a chance to do research myself on a variety of family law issues. Since starting, I've received intensive training regarding the current legal state of bankruptcy law, foreclosure law, and landlord/tenant law (including evictions) in Washington State, in order to be able to more efficiently spot client issues on the fly. On top of this, interns are asked to do our own research about the state of the law regarding the client’s particular issue once we finish intakes. In completing this research, I have become well versed in the rules and requirements surrounding various family law issues, particularly on how to modify parenting plans and support orders, and the various standards that the court will look to when deciding these issues. Finally, I've been able to learn to work efficiently with translators to help those who are either deaf or lack proficiency in the English Language, a skill which I know I will end up using down the road.
As it stands, new interns have just started and they will be taking over much of the client interactions, leaving me with time to begin work on updating intern training materials with current law, and affording me a chance to learn quite a bit about the various service areas we work with at the Moderate Means Program. I can’t wait to see where the rest of my summer takes me, and I know that it will be fast-paced and exciting.
July 30, 2012
Similar to my last post, I’ve been spending lots of time making phone calls (about half of my day now) to the various clients we receive at the Moderate Means Program and conducting client intakes. As before, I find this to be the most rewarding part of my summer work with the Moderate Means Program because it allows me to have one on one interaction with clients and to discuss substantive issues they are currently facing.
Once I finish my conversations with clients, I conduct a legal analysis of their issue(s), which I provide to the various attorneys who take cases from the Moderate Means Program. I’ve learned quite a bit from discussing with attorneys how the cases will likely play out, and this process has helped me to understand how the court generally treats different scenarios. Further, I’ve been able to discuss various legal doctrines with attorneys and learn the ropes of how the court deals with issues such as jurisdiction in a family law case.
When I’m not working with clients or attorneys, I’ve been using my time to conduct research and update training materials for the other interns who work with the Moderate Means Program. Currently I’m conducting research on the Consumer Protection Act in Washington State and am also looking into issues surrounding debt collection and bankruptcies. Previously, I put together a crash-course handout on community property law in Washington State in the hopes of being able to give future interns a general idea as to how property will be divvied up during a dissolution action, which is one of our most common legal problems.
I will be continuing my work with the Moderate Means Program for the duration of the summer and into the school year as well. I want to say thank you to Clay Wilson, my supervising attorney at the Moderate Means Program, all of the other interns and staff at the ATJI for all of their help and support throughout the summer, and to PILF for allowing me to do all of the work I have done this summer. My experiences at the Moderate Means Program have been nothing short of enjoyable, and I look forward to working with the Moderate Means Program for the foreseeable future.