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Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Northwest Justice Project?
The Northwest Justice Project (NJP), Washington’s publicly funded statewide legal aid program, provides free legal help to eligible low income persons and groups facing certain types of civil legal problems.
What is a civil legal problem?
A civil legal problem refers to a problem or a dispute with an individual, a company or a government program or office that affects a person’s property, benefits, or legal rights or obligations. Civil legal problems do not include criminal charges or criminal prosecution for illegal activity.
What kinds of civil legal problems does NJP handle?
NJP generally handles civil legal problems facing low income people due to lack of income, problems with education, employment or loss of employment, disabilities, discrimination, consumer abuse or illegal business practices, physical or family safety, as well as barriers low income people face when applying for government services, seeking help, or accessing the courts or other means of resolving disputes or addressing their needs. NJP also helps low income groups address problems of concern to the group.
These problems often occur in situations involving domestic violence, eviction or other loss of housing, consumer protection, job conditions or lost wages, educational barriers, lack of access to or loss of government benefits or health care, debt collection, transportation needs, language or cultural barriers to accessing social services or justice systems, as well as the economic development needs of low income communities and organizations serving them.
How does NJP assist clients with civil legal problems?
NJP is a statewide not for profit law firm that employs more than 100 lawyers and paralegals working in 17 locations throughout Washington. NJP has several specialized units or programs that serve distinct or particularly vulnerable populations, including farm workers, Native Americans, Western State Hospital patients, survivors of domestic violence and persons over 60 years old. NJP staff lawyers are not engaged in the “private” practice of law, but work solely for NJP eligible clients.
In addition, NJP contracts with several private attorneys around the state who have agreed to accept cases for eligible clients if NJP lawyers in that region are not able to handle the case. These lawyers are paid by NJP (not the client) at a highly reduced rate from what they would normally charge for their services.
Persons seeking legal help are asked to call NJP’s statewide legal hotline, CLEAR, for case screening and appropriate referral to NJP local offices or other civil legal aid providers in their community.
NJP also maintains a free legal resource web site – www.washingtonlawhelp.org – with an extensive library of up to date legal information, forms and instructions.
What other work does NJP do?
In addition to individual case work, NJP helps community groups and non-profit organizations working with low income families and individuals understand their legal rights and obligations through community education presentations, trainings and consultation and presentations on legal problems community groups are addressing for themselves, their members or client constituencies. For example, NJP has helped public housing and mobile home park resident associations solve disputes with housing authorities and other landlords; worked with disabilities support groups to address discrimination or obtain reasonable accommodations; initiated collaborations with court-based entities and client groups to address language access needs for limited-English speakers; helped create community-based food banks; and, among other things, works with local partners to identify financial security and planning options for low income persons.
Are NJP services free?
There is no charge for clients who are financially eligible for NJP services. NJP lawyers are paid by NJP with funds primarily provided by the federal government through the national Legal Services Corporation and by the state legislature through the Office of Civil Legal Aid. NJP also receives limited private funds and support from the Legal Foundation of Washington and the Campaign for Equal Justice.
In some cases, clients may be asked to help pay for some of the costs that can come up in handling a court case (but not the costs of the lawyer). However, NJP will discuss these costs with a client beforehand.
Can NJP take every client that asks for help?
No. In Washington, as in most states, civil legal aid programs are able to help less than half the number of people who need help. In most cases, NJP is able to provide limited advice and brief services, which can often solve the problem or assist the person in representing themselves. NJP is only able to represent clients in court and administrative proceedings or in complex cases in limited situations based on case service priorities established by NJP’s Board of Directors. Even for cases that come within the case service priorities, NJP is not able to represent every eligible person who needs help. For eligible persons we are unable to assist, NJP will help to identify the scope of their legal issues, provide advice, legal educational and self-help information and assistance, and try to refer for additional assistance as appropriate.
NJP’s case service priorities vary among field offices and among the specialized units. In general, the cases involve complex legal problems or issues that generally will not be handled by private attorneys, such as:
- Disputed custody cases involving domestic violence or children at risk of harm;
- Subsidized or public housing evictions involving disability issues and discrimination;
- Home mortgage foreclosure or lending abuses;
- Access to government subsistence benefits such as TANF, GAU, SSI or veteran’s benefits;
- Access to medical care or benefits such as Medicaid, Basic Health, Medicare Part D, home health or other similar benefits;
- Education rights such as special education, transitional language assistance, or disciplinary proceedings;
- Employment issues primarily for agricultural workers related to lost wages, discrimination or workplace health and safety conditions; and,
- Consumer issues related to fraud, predatory lending, medical debt, and other similar issues.
NJP will also accept cases involving other issues, such as transportation, discrimination in public accommodations, general barriers to accessing courts and other means of resolving disputes or matters that otherwise address systemic problems experienced by low income individuals or communities.
How does someone get help from NJP?
NJP accepts cases through its statewide toll-free telephone hotline called CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral), which is available Monday-Friday from 9:15 am to 12:15 pm. Persons needing legal assistance should call 1-888-201-1014, except in King County, where callers should call 2-1-1 or (206-461-3200). When calling 2-1-1 from a public phone, the toll-free number is 1-800-621-4636.
Generally, a caller is first screened for income eligibility and to identify the type of problem. (If the problem is not a civil legal problem, the caller will be referred elsewhere, e.g. a criminal case will be referred to the public defender, a personal injury case will be referred to a lawyer referral service or bar association). Because of call volume, it may take several minutes to speak to someone.
After a caller is screened and determined eligible for service, the call is forwarded to an attorney or highly qualified paralegal to conduct an in depth interview, assess the legal issues, provide immediate limited advice as needed, and determine if additional legal assistance is required. As appropriate, the attorney or paralegal will assist the caller in resolving the legal problem over the phone and electronically or will make a referral for representation by an NJP field office or other legal services program.