Walking into Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue on May 22nd, I, a rising senior at Whitman with no experience in the legal realm, was thrown into a sea of successful attorneys and high-level political officials from the King County area; needless to say, as a brand new summer intern, I felt out of my league. Influential people from companies–T-Mobile, Microsoft, and Davis Wright Tremaine, to name a few– united together to attend the 9th Annual Breakfast for Justice hosted by Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP).
Eastside Legal Assistance Program is a non-profit that provides pro-bono, civil legal aid to low-income residents within the East King County area. Clients are eligible to receive assistance from ELAP if they are within two hundred percent of the federal poverty level. As a reference, that amounts to an annual income $24,980 for a family of one according to the 2019 US Department of Health and Human Services Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Here in Washington, on average, there is one civil legal aid attorney for every 11.2 thousand people. However, the National Legal Service Corporation suggests that the ratio should be one attorney for every 5,000 people who qualify for aid. ELAP is the only civil legal assistance program that provides services to residents within East King County; thus, the ratio of civil aid attorneys to qualifying clients is one to 22,000.
Every year more than 1,000 people engage in one-on-one clinic appointments with ELAP pro-bono attorneys. These attorneys advise clients in general law matters, domestic violence, family, immigration, and bankruptcy law. These one-on-one appointments often lead to outside referrals or direct representation by an ELAP attorney.
Outreach is a huge part of what ELAP does. The people who we serve often don’t have access to the appropriate resources that would inform them of the services we provide. Last week, I helped run the ELAP table at the weekly Redmond Community Court resource center. Community Court is an “alternative problem-solving court” in which people accused of low-level offenses relinquish their right to trial and agree to work intimately with the Redmond County District Attorney, Defense Attorneys, and judge. By bringing the resources to Community Court, ELAP and other service providers cut out the barrier to access that many qualifying East King County clients face. These outreach efforts all work toward establishing justice as a right for all rather than privilege for few.
In the weeks to come, I look forward to participating further in outreach programs as well as attending court proceedings with ELAP attorneys. To reference Monika Kalra Varma’s keynote speech at the 9th Annual Breakfast for Justice, the more that I work alongside attorneys here at ELAP, the more I realize I am working alongside people who serve the hearts of their clients and communities first. Needless to say, I no longer feel out of my league, but rather, I feel like I am right where I need to be.
Experiences like Hailey Mount’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez