Justice in Motion: Northwest Justice Project redux

Northwest Justice Project is a statewide non-profit, publicly funded legal aid program.

By Sarah Glorian

It’s been quite some time since this column simply plugged Northwest Justice Project and what we do (and don’t do).

Northwest Justice Project is a statewide non-profit, publicly funded legal aid program. We provide critical civil (not criminal) legal assistance and representation to thousands of low-income people in cases affecting basic human needs such as housing preservation, protection of income, access to health care, education, family safety and security, etc.

Our vision: “Justice for All Low-Income People in Washington”

Our mission is to secure justice through high quality legal advocacy that promotes the long-term well-being of low-income individuals, families, and communities. As a dynamic statewide law firm, we pursue our mission through legal advice and representation, community partnerships, and education to empower clients and combat injustice in all its forms.

We have 17 offices providing services in every county. The Aberdeen office opened as a three-attorney office in September 2007 serving Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. Since 2011, due to the economic downturn, the Aberdeen office has been a one-attorney office. Good news though: we are in the process of interviewing for a new staff attorney position funded by the federal Victims of Crimes Act (more news on that in a future column).

Unlike public defense in criminal cases mandating case acceptance based on the U.S. Constitution Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel, we have discretion as to what cases we accept or reject based on our available local resources and established case acceptance criteria. In 2016, Aberdeen has been doing a lot of consumer, tenant defense, driver licenses, and cleaning up criminal conviction history. Additionally, we accept a broad variety of other types of civil legal issues such as education, estate recovery by the state, public benefits, tribal wills, etc. We collaborate on a wide array of community projects—to contribute the important, yet often neglected, perspective of how legal issues may affect people living in poverty.

Because we lack adequate funding to serve all those who are eligible for and in need of our services, we have devoted significant resources to alternative legal assistance models. Northwest Justice Project, in cooperation with other legal services partners, maintains the content on www.washingtonlawhelp.org, a law library for non-lawyers for folks to research a broad array of legal topics in easy-to-read format, and often provided in various languages. There are extensive self-help tools on this site, including how-to guides with sample forms, YouTube vignettes explaining legal issues, interactive self-help programs that auto-generate court pleadings or correspondence for certain legal issues, such as dissolution of marriage without minor children, petition for domestic violence protection order, demand letter to landlord regarding security deposits, etc.

Although folks can always contact our local office first, many first time callers will initially be referred to our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

CLEAR is one of our critical tools due to Aberdeen’s and other field offices’ limited resources. When you call CLEAR, if you are eligible for our services, you will have an opportunity to speak to one of our highly-qualified lawyers located remotely in other Northwest Justice Project locations (most in Seattle, but not all). Many legal issues can be resolved through these phone calls, which frees up our limited local resources for cases that require more on-the-ground advocacy. CLEAR advocates have their own client caseload and it is not unusual for them to provide extensive advocacy assisting clients from afar. While it can be nice to meet your attorney in person; often, it is completely unnecessary.

Depending on the legal issue and available local resources, some cases may not need to be referred to CLEAR and we may be able to do a local intake. Please feel free to call the Aberdeen office to see if your situation is appropriate for a local intake appointment at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293 (no walk-ins, please).

Please remember if you are referred to CLEAR, it never means your case is any less important to us; we just have limited resources and often have to triage cases. And, it is not unusual we think it better to entrust you to CLEAR’s capable hands when they may be better situated to assist you in a more timely and effective manner.

Due to upcoming holidays, office absences and end-of-year tasks, our local intake is closed until Jan. 3. However, you can still get legal assistance from CLEAR throughout December.

Happy Holidays &New Year to All!