At Solid Ground, I am working to help low-income individuals who are facing adverse action from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). This experience has been eye-opening in many regards; I now have a broader understanding of the diversity of the population of public benefit recipients as well as the obstacles that these individuals face when attempting to navigate the DSHS bureaucracy.
Through this internship, I have deepened my appreciation for organizations such as Solid Ground, who provide free legal services to qualifying individuals. I am certain that many of the clients I’ve helped would not have been able to achieve such positive outcomes without this group’s advice and representation.
The most shocking thing I have learned from my time at Solid Ground is how adversarial a system designed to help people can be. There is a wide variety of social service programs available to individuals, but understanding how to qualify and stay qualified can be a difficult process. First, there is a huge deficit in readily accessible information about attaining benefits and the type of benefits available.
Second, if a person does not receive any kind of accessible information, they’d have to read the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) in order to understand how to get and keep benefits. This in itself is a problem, because trying to read a code riddled with legal jargon is not conducive to a robust understanding of one’s options. I’ve had to reference the WAC for each client in order to be more familiar with their specific situation and I can say sincerely that the WAC is not written in a user-friendly way.
Finally, while there are some resources that help explain the WAC, almost all of them are available online or specifically located at DSHS community service offices. Unfortunately, Internet access and consistent transportation are not resources that everyone has. Many clients I have assisted have barriers such as disability, homelessness, and financial obstacles that prevent them from advocating for themselves.
Working directly with real clients and solving real legal issues has provided invaluable context to the coursework that I’ve done in my first year of law school. I truly feel that, while I have learned a lot through taking classes, I didn’t gain an appreciation for how often I would be revisiting these concepts until I engaged in real legal work.
This opportunity has also reaffirmed the reason I came to law school. I decided to attend law school, specifically Seattle University, because I believed that the law is only just as it is accessible. By doing pro bono work, whether as a full-time job or on a volunteer basis, attorneys can make a tangible impact on the populations who are the most disenfranchised by the law. I look forward to finishing my internship and continuing to learn and grow from both my attorney mentors and individual clients.