Naomi Simila-Dickinson

Naomi Simila-DickinsonNorthwest Justice Project

Olympia, Wash.

The Olympia branch of NJP primarily focuses on family law (specifically domestic violence), housing issues such as prevention of evictions and protection subsidized housing, equal employment opportunity issues, and denial and termination of public benefits.

June 28, 2013

It has been four weeks of commuting back and forth between Seattle and Olympia, soaking up knowledge about family law at the Olympia office of Northwest Justice Project, and taking in the wisdom of my Professional Responsibility professor. To say the routing has been hectic would be an understatement. Despite the whirlwind schedule, I would not have traded the experience I am getting this summer for anything.

I have the great opportunity to work with an ardent attorney who focuses on advocating for victims of domestic violence. Every Monday, I join her at clinics held at domestic violence shelters, where I learn about the balance between compassion and empowerment needed to encourage the women who come seeking assistance. The attorney rarely represents the women that come to see her in court, but she guides them through the forms and filing process for divorce, custody issues, and protection orders. I aid her in her heavy workload by writing motions or filling out forms for more some of the more complex issues the pro se clients may have.

For the cases in which my supervisor attorney does represent a client, I have written a number of memos on disputed or unclear elements. Mostly, these cases have had complex jurisdictional questions. Finding relevant case law for these cases is like finding a needle in a haystack. This week, I spent two entire days looking for just one case that answered the question I was out to answer. On the third day, my staff attorney advised me that there might not be a relevant case, and that I should probably move on. Not finding the case was really frustrating, part of me is sure it has to be out there, somewhere. This road block serves as another lesson I will take away this summer — sometimes you have to let go and be productive in another way.

Every now and again, we also see women seeking U visas. A U visa is specifically for undocumented immigrants who have been victims of violent crimes. Most of the U visa applicants I have met have been victims of their domestic partners, or mothers of abused children. As a Spanish speaker, I have had the chance to speak with them and be captivated by their harrowing stories. The U visa process is long, and the waiting time to hear back is longer, but it gives me such hope that after all these women have been through, there is a way I can help them achieve a little peace.

Working with NJP has been my first crack at the legal field. I was a little nervous going in, and unsure of what exactly I wanted to do in the legal field, only that I wanted to help people. At this point, I feel even more dedicated to public service. The strength of the clients I have met inspires me, and I want to do all I can to help them in their pursuit of justice.

July 31, 2013

Yesterday was the last day for the other intern in the office. The lawyers got us sandwiches from Meconi's and cupcakes from the place down the street for "Intern Appreciation Lunch." It was a nice gesture. We sat around and talked about the summer. One of the lawyers asked a broad question: how was it working here this summer? Answering that question requires compacting eight hours a day, five days a week, for nine weeks into a few sentences. Well, here goes.

Before starting my internship, I had very negative views of family law. Well, more specifically divorce lawyers, which is probably not fair. I now have a much broader understanding what family law encompasses. It is not just divorce (though divorce is a large part). Family law includes custody issues, including adoption, civil unions, domestic partnerships, common law marriage, etc. Even divorce has many complex parts.

What I found most fascinating about the family law field was jurisdictional issues in custody proceedings. I actually enjoyed reading and researching components of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Having said all that, I am not sure I am cut out to practice family law. Many clients had heart-breaking situations that had no happy ending or solutions. Those situations left me feeling helpless; I predict that too many days of leaving work angry at the system would push me to burn out too quickly.

On the other hand, immigration law is a field I had been considering. Having spent time living abroad, I very much enjoy interacting with people from different cultures, and spring at the chance to use my Arabic or Spanish skills. This summer I got to use both, though the Arabic only came in handy once. I conducted a number of client interviews in Spanish. Most of those interviews involved U visa applicants. While the stories of the clients were gut-wrenching, most qualified for the U visas, and hopefully, in time, will receive the outcome they hope for. The clients felt empowered, which in turn made me feel useful. I am aware that in immigration, happy endings are not guaranteed, but multiple visas and ways to obtain them give applicants options in attaining their goals. After this summer, I can see myself pursuing a career in the immigration law field.

Now that I have cut my teeth on paperwork and client interviews, I feel more prepared going into my second year of law school, and pursuing my future career. I also feel that I have found mentors in my supervising attorneys, and am comfortable going to them for advice about career and legal matters. I am thoroughly pleased with how my summer turned out.

Court Level