Volunteer attorneys work with SCLS to represent those most in need of full representation. Our family law staff attorney sometimes provides full legal representation to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault in protection order and family law cases (dissolution, legal separation, and paternity). Many cases include special circumstances, such as a client is who has limited English proficiency, has physical or mental disabilities, where the opposing party is represented by counsel, and/or where there is risk to the children involved.
We have seen a significant increase in the number of non-English speaking clients in the last two years and anticipate that this trend will continue. Because of the increased time involved in assisting these clients, our practice is to have staff represent them rather than a volunteer attorney. However, some of our volunteers do accept non-English speaking clients, and we assist with the cost of interpretation. Volunteers taking family law cases have the opportunity to be matched with an experienced family law attorney for mentoring. In addition to family law referrals, there are volunteer opportunities to represent clients bankruptcy, contract disputes, housing disputes other than eviction, guardianships, license revocations, and consumer problems.
Volunteers who represent clients through SCLS help meet the client’s legal needs and gain self-sufficiency and stability through assistance with family law actions to dissolve dysfunctional marriages, establish child support and obtain spousal maintenance for education and training, through bankruptcy actions to obtain debtor-creditor relief, and through assistance with landlord-tenant problems or other actions such as preparation of wills and durable powers of attorney.
Going to court can be very intimidating, especially when important rights are at risk and the client may have limited understanding of the court process and may face other barriers to access the legal system. Our staff and volunteer attorneys are sensitive to the needs of our clients. We provide interpreters when needed and try to assist the client to help themselves. We represent many of our most vulnerable clients in court so that they can have meaningful access to justice.
Our family law staff attorney provides emergency legal services to victims of domestic violence through entry of protection orders and emergency temporary orders in family law matters. The client is then referred to a volunteer attorney for further representation after entry of temporary orders. In some instances, particularly where significant resources are required such as interpreter fees, our staff attorney continues to represent the client through trial.
Our staff attornies also provide unbundled legal services in family law, landlord-tenant, consumer, and administrative cases, representing clients at hearings, negotiating with opposing counsel, or writing letters on behalf of the client. When our volunteer attorneys accept cases for limited legal representation, it has been helpful under those circumstances for our clients to have any urgent issues resolved so that their legal situation is stabilized. Volunteer attorneys may agree to represent the client through a hearing for temporary orders, for instance, and then the client may come back to us for further pro se assistance or referral as appropriate.
Many of our clients are able to proceed on their own (pro se), with the help of an attorney in drafting paperwork, legal advice, and procedural directions. Clients who do proceed pro se are encouraged to return for review of the documents they plan to file and continuing assessment of the case for appropriateness and availability of referral.
We also provide our clients with information about community resources that will help them with problems associated with their presenting legal problem. These referrals include referrals for emergency or shelter housing, mental health services, respite care, volunteer dental services, low or no cost parenting classes, domestic violence support groups, and drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment.