Washington State Young Lawyers Bridge the GAAP by Offering Low-Bono Services
By Julia A. Bahner and Rachelle Anderson
Julia A. Bahner is an associate editor of The Affiliate and the ABA YLD district representative for Washington and Oregon. She practices commercial litigation and bankruptcy in Seattle, Washington, and can be reached at julbahner@hotmail.com. Rachelle Anderson is the Greater Spokane District WYLD trustee. She practices family law in Spokane, Washington, and can be reached at rachelle@asisna.com.
Washington State has developed an innovative program that allows young lawyers to gain valuable experience by providing low-bono legal services and also allows low-income community members access to much needed legal services. This service is known as the Greater Access and Assistance Project (GAAP).
GAAP provides civil legal assistance to people who are not financially eligible for pro bono legal assistance or staffed legal aid programs but cannot afford to hire a private attorney for representation. The program is very worthwhile and helps serve people who might otherwise fall through the “gap.” The GAAP was originally envisioned by the Washington Young Lawyers Division (WYLD) in 1996 as low fee panels throughout Washington State that would be supported by the WYLD in coordination with local legal services programs. In furtherance of that mission, the WYLD joined with the Washington Access to Justice Board (ATJ) and sought and obtained the endorsement of the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA). The program is overseen by a joint committee consisting of members of the WYLD and liaisons from the ATJ Board. GAAP was started as a pilot program in Spokane County in eastern Washington.
A very successful marketing effort in Spokane resulted in the creation of a GAAP panel of over eighty attorneys ready and willing to take cases at a reduced rate. The Spokane County Bar Association agreed to provide office space and a fax machine and phone so that GAAP administrative volunteers could receive faxed referrals and make calls to GAAP panel attorneys. Northwest Justice Project’s Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral (CLEAR) system also agreed to fax eligible referrals to GAAP. After determining that clients meet pre-established financial requirements, CLEAR advocates complete a referral form to GAAP with the client’s name, phone number, and a brief description of the client’s legal issue. Since its inception in February 2002, CLEAR has made over 300 referrals to GAAP. The GAAP committee is now working with people from around Washington State to expand the GAAP program to other counties.
ABA YLD assistance has also been critical to GAAP’s success. In the years 2005 through 2007, the WYLD applied for and received multiple ABA YLD public service subgrants to secure funding to maintain the GAAP program and for expansion efforts. Overall, the program has received over $4,000 from the ABA YLD to date.
In addition, the GAAP committee just completed a feasibility report regarding the expansion of the program from satellite programs run county by county to one statewide program united under one centralized administrative hub. As part of the feasibility report, stakeholders from those counties who are currently operating GAAP programs as well as those in interested counties were consulted, and the study produced some exciting recommendations. Because local knowledge of the volunteer attorney base is crucial to successfully placing the clients and attorneys, it is still imperative that much of the program be run at the local level. To ensure a standardized means of operation, uniform guidelines, and promotion of the program on a wider basis, however, a centralized hub—acting as an administrator of the program—would be the ideal way to keep the GAAP program growing and thriving.
The future of GAAP as a statewide program is still being explored. With more counties in Washington State showing interest, and with the support of the WYLD and its members spearheading this exceptional program, it is certain that many people who otherwise would not have legal representation are getting their legal gaps filled in Washington State.