For my first experience working as a legal intern, I was lucky enough to obtain a position at Northwest Justice Project (NJP) in Olympia, Washington. NJP is a publicly funded legal aid organization with 17 offices across Washington state. Its mission is to bridge the justice gap by providing civil legal aid to low-income people. NJP attorneys advocate on a wide range of issues, including family law, public benefits, housing, consumer protection, and debt collection.
I was drawn to NJP because I am interested in building a career that centers on values of social and economic justice. My hope was that I would gain exposure to a variety of legal issues, build concrete skills, and experience a ground-level view of the ways that poverty intersects with the justice system.
The experience did not disappoint. I was able to do work in all of the above-mentioned practice areas and to build various skills, including motion writing, client interviewing, document review and in-depth research and analysis. Moreover, it was inspiring to work with attorneys who care deeply about their work and who clearly love their jobs.
One my most engaging assignments involved writing a motion asking the court to withdraw traffic fines from collection and to reduce the amount owed so that the client could reinstate her driver’s license and move closer to full-time employment and financial stability. When a person is unable to pay a traffic fine due to poverty and his or her license is suspended, the situation can become an escalating problem through mounting collection fees and decreased employability. The impact is particularly difficult when a person has outstanding tickets in multiple courts, due to lack of coordination between jurisdictions. On a hopeful note, the Washington legislature recently created a task force to investigate the possibility of a streamlined payment system, so reform may be on the horizon. As part of my internship, I was able to attend one of these task force meetings and catch a glimpse into the political process.
In sum, I consider myself quite fortunate to have worked at NJP and it would not have been possible without the PILP stipend. It allowed me to see how rewarding and challenging the work of legal aid attorneys can be.