To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
It is a pleasure to bring you greetings from Washington state and to tell you about recent Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) initiatives. The WSBA is an integrated bar association with approximately 34,000 members, and our governing body is a 17-member board of governors.
The board of governors recently adopted strategic goals for the next three years, which focus on improving our members' level of satisfaction with their lives and with the practice of law. A key component is enhancing the culture of service within the WSBA membership. Service is part of our profession's historical foundation, and we are providing tools and opportunities (a "menu" of service options) for lawyers to give back to their communities. I am proud of our bar association for funding two initiatives currently underway - the Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project and the Moderate Means Program.
Over the past 18 months, more than 450 Washington lawyers have volunteered through the Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project. A partnership with the Northwest Justice Project (Washington's publicly funded legal aid program), nearly 600 families and individuals have received free legal help. In addition to free online training videos and materials developed by the WSBA, ongoing support is available from fellow members of the Bar who are experienced in housing and foreclosure matters, so that even those lawyers without previous experience in this area are able to provide assistance to clients. In addition to WSBA staff support, the WSBA has funded two positions at the Northwest Justice Project, so there is dedicated staffing for this important project.
Making its debut last month to WSBA members (and scheduled to be rolled out to the public in early 2011) is the Moderate Means Program. It's another partnership - this time with Washington's three law schools: Gongaza University, Seattle University, and the University of Washington. This reduced-fee lawyer-referral services program will bring greater access to justice for people of moderate means (between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level). The WSBA is recruiting lawyers for the program and providing free substantive and skills-based training (focused on family, housing, and consumer law), as well as mentoring. Supervised law students will coordinate intake and referrals. The law schools' intake and referral teams include two WSBA-funded project attorneys at the law schools - one for Western Washington and one for Eastern Washington.
Another exciting volunteer opportunity is iCivics, a web-based education project aimed primarily at middle-school students. The vision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, iCivics was born from the concern that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation. We look forward to sending lawyer volunteers into classrooms to interact with students and facilitate the online program.
In addition to providing meaningful opportunities for service, the WSBA is also working to assist members who are unemployed or under-employed. We are acutely aware of the challenges many members are facing in these difficult economic times. We currently provide various job seekers' groups led by a licensed psychologist and providing job-search resources. Simultaneously, we are in the process of developing a contract attorney panel which will give those seeking work and those looking for contract attorneys, the opportunity to connect. This will be done through the members-only section of our website.
These are dynamic times at the WSBA, and I'm particularly excited about enhancing our culture of service, which has the four-fold benefit of serving the public, enhancing lawyers' careers, improving our members' level of satisfaction with the practice of law and their lives, and supporting our profession.
On behalf of my colleagues in the State of Washington, I wish you all the best in the new year.
Steven G. Toole