By Shea Hazel On Wednesday, April 20, 2021, Washington Council of Lawyers hosted an inspiring session to encourage and empower client-centered representation. Redefining Success: Empowering Client-Centered Representation was moderated by Jen Masi, Pro Bono Director, Children’s Law Center, and included panelists Katherine Conway, Staff Attorney, CAIR Coalition; Tracy Davis, Managing Attorney, Bread for the City; and, Faiza Majeed, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Panelists offered suggestions on client-centered approaches to counseling and legal strategies; prioritizing client agency and empowering clients through the resolution of their cases. Meet Clients Where They Are "Meeting clients where they are" requires holistic, client counseling and representative approaches, obliging lawyers to disregard any biases and actively listen. Be present and actively listen to clients’ stories to understand the injustices they experience and their unique goals and priorities. Balance legal expertise with client expertise of their lived experiences. Thank clients for calling when their cases are sources of trauma and stress, understanding they may be traumatized or retraumatized throughout the legal process. Understand some clients may be detained and have been stripped of their liberties. Respect clients’ dignity in making their own decisions and allow them the time they need to reflect and commit to legal strategies. Client-Centered Lawyering and Representation Applying principles of cultural humility can keep lawyers centered on clients' needs and increase client advocacy and zealous representation. Support client’s agency over their cases. Honestly and realistically educate clients about possible options and outcomes (including potential consequences), to empower informed decision making. Enlist subject matter reinforcements, when needed. Prioritize client goals, first; legal strategies, second. Encourage clients to take on tasks, which may help them proceed on their own at a later date if necessary. Educate against biases and assumptions. Speak up about systemic disparities and racism. Build power within communities by conducting know-your-rights trainings and by representating organizations such as tenant associations. Connect clients to mental health or case management services where appropriate - coordinating with their providers and advocating for the clients to the provider, while acknowledging your role in representing a client's stated interest. Revisit and redefine success throughout the attorney-client relationship. Continually reflect upon your own lawyering skills so you can continue to better deliver client-centered approaches. Successful Case Closure Clients need to be empowered, to keep moving their lives forward, after their cases have closed, regardless of the outcome. Celebrate micro-moments of success throughout the case. Reassure clients for showing up and making their -often silenced- voices heard. Help clients understand their problems so they are equipped to respond in the future. Ensure clients understand any court orders and help them prepare for and mitigate against potential challenges. Put ego aside and not expect to have the closure you might want. Preserve client relationships and understand they may call upon your services in the future. As a reminder, hearing and validating the injustice a client may have experienced while being zealous and honest about achieving real justice for them under the law, is challenging and rewarding work. If you are not taking care of yourself, you cannot take care of your clients. It is important to understand your work-life balance and prioritize your mental, spiritual, and physical health. Your ability and availability to advocate for your clients is a personal decision and there is a community of pro bono and civic-minded attorneys to collaborate with through Washington Council of Lawyers and across the District. Check out more ways to connect at Washington Council of Lawyers’ upcoming events. And continue the conversation on social media using #50YearsStrong. Shea Hazel is a law student at UMass Law and a member of Washington Council of Lawyers Advocacy Committee
On Thursday, April 9, 2021, Noah A. Messing, Yale Law School's Lecturer in the Practice of Law and Legal Writing, led a legal writing workshop, the latest installation in the Washington Council of Lawyers’ Litigation Skills Series. With great skill and wit, Noah took the audience through the three main areas where lawyers can improve their writing skills: organization, prose, and drafting. Four Key Organizational Strategies Noah urged attendees to orient readers fast. Even if the memo or brief is inherently lengthy, try to frontload the important information; this allows the reader to quickly become familiar with the purpose of the document and determine its urgency. While telling a narrative, it can be tempting to simply state the facts in straightforward chronological order but introducing facts using flashbacks can help better organize your writing. Doing so can allow the reader to understand why the facts the writer has presented in the past are important and relevant to their message. Another pitfall that lawyers can easily fall into is focusing too much on rebutting their opponents’ arguments. Noah urges lawyers to focus on winning, THEN rebutting. This means not only showing the flaws in your opponents’ arguments; it means clearly demonstrating why your arguments are more persuasive and the correct way for the Court to decide. But how does one go about creating a structure to organize all of this information? Noah introduced attendees to the idea of CRAC, which stands for Conclusion, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. This method is a simple way to ensure that your arguments and messages stay neatly organized. Five Strategies for Better Prose When dealing with complex issues, it can be easy for lawyers to fall into the trap of writing long and complicated sentences and paragraphs as they try to address every part of their argument. However, this can cause the reader to feel as if they were in a confusing labyrinth, quickly losing track of where the writer was trying to lead them. To combat that, Noah encourages writers to write short sentences and paragraphs. This does not mean writing curt or robotic-sounding prose; it rather means to vary the length of your sentences to ensure that your message is clear and easy to follow. He also encourages writers to use active and short verbs. Try keeping your writing in the active voice and watch out for passive verbs. On that note, pay attention to the length of the words you choose - notice the number of syllables in the words you choose. This does not mean you have to count out the syllables in each word but rather encourages the writer to keep their language clear and concise. Noah also encourages writers to place familiar information before new information. Start by setting a foundation for the reader, including providing who the parties are and defining unknown terms, such as names of projects. To keep the reader on track for where you want to go, use “signposts” to let the reader know where you are trying to lead them. And be sure to get to the subject of the sentence and the principal verb quickly; nothing loses a reader more than having to wade through lengthy clauses to find the point of the sentence. Five Tips for Drafting Anticipate issues. As the old saying goes, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Being a good lawyer requires one to be prepared for any and all possible outcomes, so be sure to consider additional options when listing who your messages apply to. Be sure to have all of your bases covered. Watch for Ambiguity. Ambiguous language can be the downfall of even the best attorney. Be sure to make sure that your language is specific. Watch for Vagueness. Notice wiggle room in the terms you write? Your opponents can use that to their advantage. Ensure that your language is not vague to allow your message to be as impactful as you mean it to be. Watch for Inconsistencies. Even the tiniest details matter! Ensure that you are consistent throughout your writing, whether it be through how you refer to the parties or whether you capitalize certain words. Find Good Precedent. Good writing is nothing without the precedent and the research to back it up! Noah captivated attendees not only through these useful lessons but also with his sense of humor and his ability to present these lessons in a fun and interesting way. Using great metaphors and visual examples, attendees were able to easily grasp the skills that will help them become better writers and better lawyers. Want to learn how to become a better litigator? Sign up for our next events in our Litigation Skills Series here. Caitlyn Burnitis is a Staff Attorney at the Amara Legal Center and a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers Communications Committee.
Washington Council of Lawyers was founded in 1971, which makes this our 50th Anniversary year! To celebrate the occasion, we are holding a 50 Days for 50 Years Membership Drive, now through May 20. It's the perfect time to join DC’s only public-interest bar association! Our membership is comprised of hundreds of attorneys and supporters from law firms, federal and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and law schools; we have one main thing in common — we care deeply about access to justice for our DC neighbors. If you do, too, we would appreciate your membership and welcome you officially into this wonderful community. As a member, you will enjoy: Member-only events Free or reduced rates at programs Networking opportunities Our Public Interest Jobs Clearinghouse emailed to you on the 1st and 15th of each month As an added bonus, when you join now, you will receive a two-year membership for the cost of one, effectively a 50% reduced rate! Act quickly! The 2-year offer for new members ends on May 19. Join today, and then plan to meet other members at Lawyers with a Fine Palate, a virtual wine-tasting event to welcome all of our members. It's the perfect way to celebrate your official membership! Join us today!
By Heather Krick On Wednesday, December 9, 2020, we hosted Spotlight on Evictions, a virtual conversation with Emily Benfer, Chair of the ABA's Covid-19 Taskforce on Evictions. First, the program opened with remarks from current ABA President Patricia Lee Refo. Tricia acknowledged that the United States is facing an unprecedented need for pro bono lawyering and reminded us that lawyers can help limit the number of evictions. She discussed the ABA's advocacy in Congress for a renewed moratorium on evictions. The draft stimulus bill, which Congress is set to pass shortly, includes an extension of the national eviction moratorium through January 2021. She also thanked the many lawyers who have taken on pro bono cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, Taryn Wilgus Null, government attorney and member of the Washington Council of Lawyers Board of Directors, moderated a discussion with Emily about the eviction crisis, which already existed pre-pandemic and has only been exacerbated during the pandemic. The facts and context Emily provided are sobering. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic began, about 50% of the renter population (or 20.8 million families) were paying 30% of their income to rent. Seven evictions were filed every minute when the unemployment rate was at 4.7%. Racially discriminatory housing practices resulted in a lack of wealth accumulation among people of color who have approximately 1/12 of the wealth accumulation of their white counterparts. Emily highlighted the purpose and effect of eviction moratoriums. Currently, Washington, DC has a moratorium on evictions, but 31 states do not have strong protections in place. Earlier in the pandemic, in May, 43 states had protections in place against evictions. This is important because eviction filings spike within weeks after moratoriums end and protections cease. In some cities, filings rose 385%. The mere filing of an eviction case can lead to decreased housing stability. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the filing can lower credit scores, hinder loan eligibility, or create barriers to future employment. Connections Between Evictions and Health Inequity Emily then explained that the single greatest predictor of eviction is the presence of a child in the home. As a result, families are often the ones evicted from their homes. This can have negative consequences on health well into the future. She noted evictions are associated with health conditions in children such as emotional trauma, risk of chronic disease in adulthood, decreased life expectancy, setbacks in education, and food insecurity. Some conditions shown in women who are evicted include drug-use and related harms, pre-term pregnancy, and physical or sexual assault. She went on to demonstrate how evictions are also correlated with an increase in physical and mental health conditions, including higher mortality rates, higher blood pressure, respiratory conditions, sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety, mental health hospitalizations, and suicides. Additionally, evictions cause families to seek alternatives which include staying with relatives or friends. Emily elucidated how an increase in home size by just two people can double the exposure risk of respiratory infections like the novel coronavirus. An overcrowded residential environment also makes it difficult to adhere to CDC recommended COVID-19 protocols, such as increased hand washing, self-quarantining, wearing clean masks, sheltering in place, and social distancing. With a link between moratorium lifts and an increase in mortality rates, evictions frustrate efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Effects are stronger in states with weaker moratoriums. Some experts estimate that between May and September of 2020, evictions led to an additional 430,000 preventable cases of COVID-19 and 10,700 preventable deaths. Emily further explained that people of color are much more likely to be affected by evictions and their accompanying health impacts. During this past summer, African American renters had low or slight confidence in their ability to pay the next month's rent compared to white renters who consistently had high confidence in their ability to make rent payments. Black and Hispanic adults are dying at the same rates as white people who are a decade or older than them. What can we do? Emily had several suggestions for how lawyers can get involved. We need to freeze the initiation stage of evictions and ensure that the freeze applies to all renters. We can increase access to counsel for tenants in eviction cases. Without counsel, winnable cases more frequently default in the landlord's favor. We can create diversion programs that include a right to counsel. While there are rent relief programs available, the demand is so high that the funds get depleted within one day and sometimes in hours. Programs with funds still available are setting the bar too high for those in need to access the funds. Two actions that lawyers can take are to 1) take a pro bono eviction case, and 2) advocate for better fair housing policies. Emily highlighted one tax attorney in Texas who was so moved by the situation that they started taking pro bono cases and prevented four thousand evictions alone. After the pandemic is over, the work will have just begun. Legal representation in housing court can make a huge difference. In 2019, approximately 84% of tenants represented by counsel remained in their homes, and default judgments dropped by 34%. Pro bono lawyers will be more important than ever in helping families maintain secure housing. Hope for the Future Hope in this dark moment comes from remembering that many lawyers have already taken on pro bono cases and are continuing…