A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action
Last Revised: Nov 08, 2007 - Initial Posting: Aug 25, 2004
Purpose

Community Action of Skagit County’s Volunteer Lawyer Program provides free legal assistance in civil matters (not criminal) to eligible low-income residents of Skagit County.

Description

Community Action of Skagit County offers free legal assistance to eligible low-income Skagit County residents through the Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP).  Criteria for Direct Representation is also used for further eligibility determination.

The program is co-sponsored by the Skagit County Bar Association and staffed by an Attorney/Program Coordinator and a Legal Assistant.  VLP was established based on the fact that low-income people face 85% of their legal problems without help from an attorney, and these problems are more likely to relate to family safety (including domestic violence), economic security, housing and other basic needs, than those experienced by people with higher incomes.

A written description of the Legal Clinic Procedures explains the screening process and the different levels of involvement by volunteer attorneys.  The Northwest Justice Project handles telephone screening and referral through its CLEAR Hotline (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral system).  A Steering Committee establishes Case Priorities.  Individuals in need of legal advice or direct legal services on civil matters can talk with a volunteer attorney.  Clients must complete the following forms prior to receiving assistance:

A Case Status Report form is used to record services provided and a Legal Clinic Services Summary form documents the disposition of cases.  A wide variety of pamphlets and information on legal matters is also available.

Legal help was previously available through a Domestic Violence Justice Project (DVJP) that specifically assists victims of domestic violence with legal needs that will ensure their health and safety.  A Victims of Crime Assistance grant funded through states by the U.S. Department of Justice was used to operate DVJP.  A full-time DVJP Attorney who represented victims of domestic violence in family law matters staffed the project.  VLP no longer offers representation through a domestic violence staff attorney.  Instead, VLP contracts with local attorneys to provide temporary representation for emergent matters in domestic violence cases.

VLP services include:

  • Family Law Legal Clinics are held once a week to provide information about family law matters, including divorce, custody, child support and parentage.  Eligible clients are scheduled for a 30-minute consultation with a volunteer attorney who can advise clients and review pro se (self-representation) forms.  If clients need further representation, volunteer attorneys may take on the case themselves or refer the case back to the Program Manager who will attempt to find a volunteer attorney to assist that client.

  • Legal Advice may be available for civil cases that don’t involve family law or bankruptcy.  Eligible clients are referred to a volunteer attorney who can provide free consultations in their office.

  • Pro Se Forms and Instructions are available for family law matters such as divorce, parentage, custody and child support, and bankruptcy.  Forms are also available to respond to an eviction notice.  The Pro Se packets are sold for a nominal fee that can be waived if the client is unable to pay.

  • Pro Bono Representation may be available if the case falls with program priorities when a client needs assistance beyond the legal clinics and pro se forms.  The Program Manager will attempt to find a volunteer attorney.  Whether or not an attorney can accept a case pro bono depends on their area of practice and their schedule at the time.

    A Pro Bono Referral letter is forwarded to the attorney accepting the case.  Instructions are included for completion of a VLP Attorney – Client Agreement form, as well as returning a Case Status/Case Completion Report when the case is closed.  A Pro Bono Assistance letter is forwarded to the client with information about the provisions for pro bono services.

A standard Attorney Registration form is used for attorneys to register as volunteers and to receive the following benefits:

  • Attend Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars organized by VLP at reduced rates
  • Eligible for up to four CLE credits for direct pro bono representation
  • Professional liability insurance coverage provided through the Legal Foundation of Washington (LFW) for any direct pro bono representation performed on behalf of a VLP client.  LFW administers the Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account (IOLTA) program in Washington State and is dedicated to the provision of equal access to the justice system by funding legal and educational programs for low-income persons.

VLP’s web site also provides a list of Legal Resource links that can be used to obtain additional legal information and assistance, as well as supportive services related to legal matters.

Outcomes

Through the VLP in 2006:

  • 298 clients were assisted
  • 102 clients received free counsel and advice
  • 93 clients received brief services
  • 16 clients received representation from pro bono attorneys
  • 47 victims of domestic violence received advice and/or direct representation
Contact

Catherine Brown, VLP Program Manager
360.416.7585

Karen Parnell, Deputy Director
360.416.7585 ext. 151