Spokane County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Program
A lot has changed since the SCBA’s Volunteer Lawyers Program began in 1985, according to Julie Griffith, executive director of both the bar and the VLP. When it started, there were as many as 700 volunteers, and quite often, their work would extend to full representation. Now, out of a total bar membership of about 1,200, the VLP has about 90 regular volunteers, and in most cases, they come in for an hour or two, offering advice to help clients better navigate the justice system on their own.
That’s a reflection of modern life, Griffith believes, not only for busy lawyers, but also for savvy consumers: “We’re just moving to a different time for people to get their information.”
With its $17,000 Opportunity Grant, the VLP plans to work with an oganization called Community-Minded Enterprises to produce 25 videos on such practical matters as how to fill out particular forms, what to wear to court, and how to use the county clerk’s office. The videos will feature a range of speakers, from the county clerk himself, to judges, to various bar members. Griffith notes that the bar’s newsletter has been heavily promoting the new videos and asking for both topics and volunteer presenters.
The VLP is housed within the county courthouse, and one primary purpose for the videos is to have them available there as people wait to meet with their volunteer lawyers or fill out paperwork. But, Griffith notes, the reach will be considerably wider than that, and will help get important information to people who need it but whose income may make them ineligible for VLP services. The videos will be available on the bar’s website—which, Griffith adds, will necessitate building an online “store” where people can access them (which is another area where the grant will be helpful). Also, she says, Community-Minded Enterprises will air the videos on its public access station, CMTV14.
When Griffith arrived at the SCBA and VLP a little over a year ago, it was from a background in finance and nonprofit health care—and 25 years’ worth of grant writing experience. She immediately saw the need to diversify the VLP’s funding beyond the legal community, IOLTA, and law-related organizations in Spokane and the state of Washington, and began looking for grants that might be a good fit.
Fit is very important, she says: Writing a grant application is not easy, so an organization should carefully assess each opportunity and be honest about whether it’s a close enough match to be worth pursuing. At the same time, Griffith advises, don’t automatically shy away from large, national organizations like the ABE.
“You have to be a little bit on the fearless side,” she says, “if, in your heart, you know it is a good match.”