To The Readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
I am delighted to bring you greetings from Washington State and our nearly 35,000 members, who hail from large cities like Seattle and Spokane, and small towns like Cashmere, in Eastern Washington, where I have spent my career. (Cashmere is home to just two practicing lawyers and is best known as the home of Aplets & Cotlets.)
As a profession whose foundation is built on service, we celebrate the contributions Washington lawyers are making to their communities and the differences they’re making in people’s lives. One of our strategic goals focuses on enhancing the culture of service within our membership, and our progress in this area has been significant.
Our Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project has been helping Washington homeowners for more than two years, and thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the Washington Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division earlier this year (funds came from a settlement with a mortgage lender regarding certain home loan practices), we’ll be expanding and extending the program for two more years. We have partnered with the Northwest Justice Project, a publicly funded legal aid program, and volunteer lawyers have handled cases involving homes for more than 2,800 individuals. Homeowners speaking 10 languages in addition to English were assisted.
Working in partnership with our state’s three law schools (Gonzaga University, Seattle University, and the University of Washington), we have launched our Moderate Means Program, which focuses on those who fall within 200-400 percent of the federal poverty level – persons who aren’t eligible for free legal aid, but who cannot afford a lawyer’s standard fee. Lawyers provide reduced-fee services, and more than 320 attorneys have signed up. The WSBA is funding project attorneys at the law schools who train and supervise the law students who conduct intake and handle referrals.
I’m particularly proud of our Young Lawyers Division, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. One of their most significant and successful programs is the First Responder Will Clinic Program, which this year reached the milestone of serving its 1,000th client and providing more than $500,000 worth of free legal services. Police and firefighters and their families throughout the state have benefited from the dedicated work of our local attorneys through this program managed by young and new lawyers.
The WSBA recognizes the importance of providing support to new lawyers, and our New Lawyer Education Program is designed to deliver continuing legal education that transforms recent law school graduates into confident, effective lawyers. Programming includes fundamental skills training that is especially needed in the early years of practice.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’m also keenly interested in ensuring that clients’ interests are protected in the event of a lawyer’s untimely death or disability, and I have been involved in the development of a comprehensive set of materials to assist lawyers in organizing their practices in such a way that another lawyer could manage a transition or closure of the practice if need be. These materials, which include a Planning Ahead Handbook, checklists, and procedures, are all available on the WSBA website (www.wsba.org).
Over the past year, we have invested resources into building the Washington State Bar Foundation’s capacity to achieve its mission of supporting WSBA programs that promote diversity within the legal profession and enhance the public’s access to, and understanding of, the justice system. During the past 12 months, the number of donors has increased fourfold, and the dollar amount of donations has doubled. The Foundation helps the WSBA serve the public and advance justice by raising funds for programs like the Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project, Moderate Means Program, First Responder Will Clinics, the WSBA Leadership Institute, and more.
On a personal note, I recently had the opportunity to lead a delegation of 28 WSBA members to Cuba, where we spent a week of meetings and conferences focused on contemporary Cuban law and the structure of their legal system. This was a rich educational and cultural experience — one I will long remember. Those interested in reading more about our Cuba trip can see the January 2012 issue of Washington State Bar News, available at www.wsba.org.
These are dynamic times at the Washington State Bar Association, and I’m very 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.
Stephen R. Crossland