DWT lawyers are helping make a difference for victims of domestic violence, for whom court can be a very intimidating place. Language barriers, cultural traditions, the influence of the abusive partner, and the complexities of the system can make it challenging to obtain a much-needed protection order.
One of the local resources for people in such a position is a program called the Domestic Violence Protection Order Impact Project, managed by pro bono counsel at the law firm Foster Pepper PLLC. The project is dedicated to representing women with children who need, or have been wrongfully denied, protection orders. The program generally offers one-time representation to help women make permanent a temporary protection order they’ve been granted, or get reconsideration of a protection order that has been denied. The program offers training to volunteer lawyers, and matches them with clients.
Highly successful, the four-year-old project has a 95 percent placement rate (virtually all the women who have come through the program have been matched with an attorney) and has helped dozens of women and their children find a semblance of safety and protection.
Last fall, representatives of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) met with Vice President Joe Biden, who exhorted APBCo members across the country to work with their community partners to make a positive impact on the unmet legal needs of low-income people. The meeting resulted in new projects and more emphasis on local collaboration.
In the Seattle area, pro bono coordinators at Foster Pepper, DWT, and Perkins Coie focused on the domestic violence program, in part because of the scarcity of such resources. They are partnering with Northwest Justice Project, Eastside Legal Assistance Project, and the protection-order program within the King County Prosecutor’s Office, to enlist additional volunteer lawyers and increase the volume of cases accepted by the project.
Among DWT’s team of volunteers is first-year associate Ashley Vulin, who says she was glad to raise her hand to help. While in law school at Duke she was very active in women’s issues, and interned in Legal Aid of North Carolina’s domestic violence unit. At the end of last year, she began undertaking the training program and went to hearings with Foster Pepper attorneys. In the first quarter of this year, she took on her first client.
“There’s usually less than a month to prepare for the hearing,” says Vulin. “It’s supposed to be a tight time frame,” she notes, as a very dangerous time for a victim is the point when she’s begun looking for help. Fellow DWT associate Francisco Olmedo, a native of Spain, will be providing interpretation services to help Vulin with her current client.