As a member of the Public Interest Law Group I was able to participate in alternative spring break. Although I am only a 1L, it was the most beneficial experiences I have had all year. I spent my week at the Spokane Center for Justice (CFJ). The CFJ is a privately funded non-profit organization that believes justice is indeed for all. They believe that when a single citizen experiences justice, we all move closer to a true democracy. The CFJ runs a community advocacy clinic where individuals can come with their legal issues and possibly attain help from the center.
Most of my time at the CFJ was spent in the clinic. I worked on updating the law in their legal binders to make sure they were applying all current laws as of 2008. I was also able research the issue for a number of cases that came into the clinic. Within a span of two days I saw landlord/tenant issues, property deed issues, and products liability/tort issues.
I was also able to complete two research projects for which I had to write memos during my time at the CFJ. I examined case law on an environmental issue relating to the Spokane River and the cities authority to close a portion of a navigable river due to overhead construction. I also spent time looking for litigation regarding cost distribution of a mandatory arbitration clause and whether or not the dispute arises out of an employer promulgated plan or an individually-negotiated employment agreement.
Needless to say within a week I was exposed to real legal issues in all areas of law that I have studied in my first year. I woke up excited to go to work every day and loved the opportunity I had to apply abstract concepts learned in class to issues that were really going to make a difference in the life of an individual. There have been many times during this first year that I have wondered what area of law I really wanted to practice. After this experience it is even harder to decide because I got to see how fun and exciting property can be, how simple civil procedure rules can make life, and even the contract dispute was an interesting issue that had real world applicability.
I really felt at home at the CFJ and I truly believe that everyone should love their job and want to go to work everyday. It was a great overall experience and it reaffirmed my determination to be a lawyer and to make a difference, even in my own life.
by Heidi Tolman
Jetta Hatch and I decided to be adventurous or adventuresome (something to do with adventure) and signed up for a swamp tour on Saturday morning. We were picked up by a van at our hotel and headed off to pick up the rest of our adventurous crew.
First we picked up David from Germany who was in New Orleans attending a physics’ conference. Next we picked up Claudia from Germany who was in New Orleans attending a physics’ conference. Finally we picked up Guido from Germany (but now lives in Switzerland) who was in New Orleans attending a physics’ conference. It was a large conference and none of them knew each other. They were very polite and did not speaking German in our presence. This was even after I told them that I love to speak French in the presence of non French speakers. It turns out that David also spoke French and Claudia spoke Russian. So, with Jetta’s Russian, we were quite a multicultural group.
When we arrived at Jean Lafitte’s swamp tour we were directed to our boat, a barge type vessel with plenty of walking space. The captain gave us a few pointers: keep hands and feet inside the barge, beware of overhanging branches and, most importantly, if we fall in the water, we are on our own. He suggested that we swim over to the bank. He made it clear that he will not be jumping in to rescue us.
We learned that alligators can eat turtles, shell and all – apparently their first stomachs have a killer acid that dissolves turtle shells. We also saw marsh cypress trees and their “knees”(roots) that help to keep the tree afloat.
By far, the most exciting part of the tour was seeing the large alligators snap at the “marsh”mallows that the guide threw in the water and the opportunity to hold a two year old alligator. It felt cool and smooth and had a very strong tail. Thankfully its mouth was taped shut with electrical tape and we were told to hang on to its strong tail so that it would not get away.
The trip was fun and the weather was great. All in all, a great swamp tour!
I felt excited and nervous as I prepared to go into the Idaho State Bar office on Monday morning. The Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program staff was supportive and welcoming, so I was soon put at ease in their office. They seemed genuinely happy to have Sarah and me in the office. Our supervisors were helpful and immediately put us to work.
My task at the IVLP was to research and crystallize the Idaho Uniform Probate Code in Title 15. Many of the calls received at the IVLP are about estates and probate procedures, so I expanded an existing memo that elucidated this area of law for future use on the IVLP website. It was a creative process to anticipate the kinds of scenarios and questions that the average person might have about creating and contesting a will. The research took me in a myriad of directions, from conversations with the DMV about transferring title to inherited vehicles to the Idaho Bureau of Health Policy and Vital Statistics for how to procure a death certificate. I re-phrased the Code’s “legalese” in ways that a non-lawyer could easily understand. I learned about an area of law that is less exotic, but no less important, than other areas of law. It made me realize how integral estate law is in the lives of everyday people.
On Wednesday night, Sarah and I assisted with a workshop for divorce and child support orders. I mainly did child support calculations while Sarah assisted an attorney with a divorce case. This was especially rewarding, since it brought me from legal theory and into the practice of law. I was able to have some conversations with area attorneys about their work and research. There was also a satisfaction about getting to help real people complete their necessary legal work. There was a tangible look of relief on their faces as they walked out the front door with their notarized orders.
I would recommend the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program to any law student looking for a placement. The work will vary from week to week, and the staff at the Idaho State Bar loves working with students. I am looking forward to doing some more volunteer work with them the next time I am in Boise.
For more information, visit http://www2.state.id.us/isb/pub_info/IVLP.htm
Wrapping up day five. I must admit, I was initially disappointed to have been assigned a project where I would not meet any of the people that would be effected by our work. Luke and I spent all of our time researching and writing a motion. In additional, Luke spent half of his time pouring through thousands of pages of unorganized discovery trying to attach some meaning to it all. While not what we had expected, this process has been an incredible learning experience. I was not one of those law students that shadowed a lawyer prior to coming to law school and I don’t know very many attorneys personally. So my entire perspective has changed as a result of this process. I didn’t get to see the effects of my work, but I know it will at a minimum lighten the burdened load of an already over-burdened legal aid attorney. I think we both learned a great deal about effective researching, and taking a seemingly impossible task and learning how to break it down into small manageable parts.
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The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has been given federal money to distribute to the people of Mississippi. The Homeowner Assistance Program is one of the plans set up to help determine the allocation of these funds, with up to $150,000 granted to homeowners. Applications for the MDA Phase II program are due this Saturday, March 15. Many people need help filling out the application. Others have turned in their applications and haven’t heard back yet, so they wonder if everything is working correctly. Some have already heard back with disparaging news: either they didn’t receive any money or the money they received isn’t enough.
Walking and knocking for three days was an experience that I will never forget. There were moments of sorrow, moments of tiredness, and moments of joy. It was a new experience, for me, to achieve so much emotion in a single interaction with a person.
As I was learning about what we would be doing in the small Mississippi community of Turkey Creek, I was assuming that there would not be much emotion. Come to find out however that emotion was about all you saw. The emotion of those that you were surveying, emotion from the escorts that were showing you around, and emotion swelling inside yourself.
Over the past week a group of us have been working with the North Gulfport Community Land Trust surveying the northern neighborhood of North Gulfport. On August 29, 2005 the city was hit by the strong eastern side of Hurricane Katrina. Gulfport was devastated. Almost three years later, this community is slowly coming back. There is continuous construction, and the city is placing a special emphasis on development according to Smart Code. Smart Code emphasizes preservation of the historic architecture of a community while also creating walkable communities.
The issue we were surveying involved the plans of the Port Authority to expand the local port. As part of the expansion, the Port Authority is planning to build an inland storage facility in North Gulfport. The proposed storage facility is right in the middle of a neighborhood. The facility will require filling in 70 acres of wetlands, making an already low lying area even more susceptible to flooding. Additionally, the facility will be used to store large containers, machinery, and because the need to refrigerate their cargo, diesel trucks running all night.