Tag Archives: street law

Street law provides free legal counsel

By Kaila Cove

Street Law provides the community with free legal advice.

Street Law, which is held by Law Advocates, a Bellingham nonprofit, gives counseling on a drop-in basis and is held several times a month in the Heiner Center at Whatcom Community College and at the Bellingham Public Library.

“This civil legal help serves around 1,000 people a year that tend to be low income residents in Whatcom County,” said Michael Heatherly, the executive director of Law Advocates.

Volunteers give advice to community members in a private setting.

“One of the biggest problems for low income and young people is legal barriers,” Heatherly said. “This program allows them to move ahead.”

It is a confidential way to ask civil legal questions.

“They can get free legal advice where they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. This clinic is an opportunity for those who have no other alternatives and have nowhere to go,” Heatherly said.

The organization serves students who may be dealing with domestic violence, student debt, and many other legal issues.

Not only is Street Law used as a resource for those with legal problems, but it is also a learning tool for prospective paralegals and lawyers.

Luis Aguilar, the coordinator for Street Law says, “It allows students to gain some educational experience and insight in the legal field, while at the same time providing residents with solutions or various services to legal issues.”

Nancy Ivarinen, the coordinator for Whatcom Community College’s Paralegal Studies Program says, “Street Law can often provide people with further resources and directions for how to handle their legal problems.”

Street Law does not offer long term representation. Attendees are given a one-time consultation, which involves recommendations for further help, including whether or not they should get a lawyer.

Street Law was founded almost 30 years ago. It started on a sidewalk in downtown Bellingham, Ivarinen said.

Street Law events are busy, so drop-in spots fill up quickly. It is best to show up early.

It will be at Whatcom on Oct. 31, Nov. 14, and Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 5 to 7 p.m.

Students can visit www.lawadvocates.org for more information.

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Whatcom instuctor Nancy Ivarinen recognized for pro bono work

By Max Singer


nancy new
Nancy Ivarinen, the coordinator for Whatcom’s Paralegal Program, was recently awarded for providing free legal aid to low-income individuals. Photo by Max Singer.

Whatcom’s Paralegal Program Coordinator and criminal law teacher, Nancy Ivarinen, 59, was awarded the Joseph T. Pemberton Award in early February for her strong pledge to civil legal assistance in the community. The LAW Advocates is a program that provides free legal aid to low-income families and individuals in Whatcom County.

The Joseph T. Pemberton Award “is given to an individual lawyer to honor his or her lifetime passion and unselfish commitment to the mission of LAW Advocates, and to recognize the importance of his or her particular contributions to civil legal aid and equal access to justice in Whatcom County,” Terra Nevitt, the executive director for LAW Advocates wrote in an email.

Nevitt said Ivarinen received the Joseph T. Pemberton Award for her work on the Northwest Justice Project, Street Law, and “most recent pro bono work.” Pro bono work is professional work undertaken voluntarily with little to no payment.

“There’s an incredible need for assistance in the area of family law. In Whatcom County 80 percent of the cases are Pro Se, in other words without a lawyer,” Ivarinen said. “I try to give them the tools to access justice for themselves. I like to make sure my students have all their legal needs met.”

Northwest Justice Project is Washington’s publicly-funded legal aid program specifically for low-income people living in-state. Through the project, Ivarinen provided legal representation to low-income victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

“Street Law is a program that I developed here at Whatcom Community College to give paralegal students the opportunity to interview real clients and also to provide moderate means and low-income clients with free counseling advice and legal services,” Ivarinen said. Through the program, anyone who needs legal advice can speak with a lawyer or paralegal student. “It’s more of a legal information session but with targeted information for the client’s specific issue,” she said.

Ivarinen hopes other schools will start similar programs to help paralegal students gain experience with real-life legal issues, and, in fact, “I don’t know if there are any other community colleges that use paralegals in conjunction with a volunteer lawyer program to help provide access,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything better as a learning example than a real example.”

Street Law occurs every other Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

When she received the award, “I was pleased that they recognized that doing this program at Whatcom really does make a difference,” she said, adding that last year Street Law provided free legal advice to over 150 clients.

 Ivarinen has been a lawyer for 25 years, since 1988. She received her law degree from the University of Montana.

 “I think economics is the biggest barrier to the access to justice issue. Not just for students and poor people; a big legal battle gets pretty expensive,” she said.

I teach two classes every quarter, usually at night, she said. “Because it is a technical degree I think it’s important that students to work with an actual practitioner on an ongoing basis, because I’m a very different as a lawyer now then I was 5, 10, 30 years ago and part of that is the evolving nature and practice of law and what it means to be a lawyer,” she said.

“It’s a combination of being a teacher and lawyer, it’s important to be both.  If I weren’t a practicing lawyer, I think students would miss some of the perspective that I can bring,” Ivarinen said.

For more legal information for moderate income folks or students, visit washingtonlawhelp.org.


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Street Legal

by Katy Kappele

Horizon Reporter

It’s the lower hall of Laidlaw, Whatcom Community College, and a pale grey table is set out by the career center.  There are several chairs around the table, and the surface is covered in papers.  Some are small yellow pieces advertising Street Law, but the majority are white legal documents, cluttered with small print. 

    Several women sit at the table.  They are older women, with experience written on their faces.  Two are blonde, one is a brunette.  There is a fourth woman, who signs paperwork, laughing with the other women, eating a sandwich.  One of the blondes smiles and stands up, taking the fourth woman back into the career center. 

    This is Street Law.  Gail Livingston, the paralegal program coordinator, said the program is a “confidential and totally free” service offered to students and their families by Whatcom’s paralegal program.  “We encourage people to use the services and tell family members.  It’s not exclusive to students,” Livingston said.

    However, said Nancy Ivarinen, a practicing attorney and teacher at Whatcom, “primarily the service is for students.” 

     Street Law began six years ago with funds from a grant.  Now the program runs on volunteer work from the attorneys who teach at Whatcom and their paralegal students.

    Patty Christensen, 55, a paralegal student in her first quarter at Whatcom, said from her student perspective “it’s been a tremendous learning experience.” 

    Each session hosts a different lawyer with different specialties, although all are general practitioners of law.  The paralegal students field general questions and gather information to outline the problem for the attorney, streamlining the process in order to help the most people possible per two hour session. 

    “Paralegals cannot give legal advice,” said Livingston.  “We just try to get the facts.”

    The paralegal student has the opportunity to follow a particular case from the field interview at the table to the session with the attorney in the depths of the career center.  Sometimes the students will discuss a certain case, minus names, in class.

    “To hear someone’s real problem and get legal advice is invaluable,” said Ivarinen.  “One of the things that is true of the legal system is that a lot of times administrative agencies have a process where you can appeal a decision.” 

    The most common problems student bring to Street Law include landlord/tenant disputes, family law matters such as divorces and parenting plan issues, and traffic complaints.  People have recently begun to seek advice on bankruptcy, Ivarinen said, a disturbing trend in the U.S. 

    “It really is a wide variety,” said Ivarinen.  “That’s what’s good — when there’s a really simple legal answer.”

    “You feel really helpful,” added Livingston. 

    The most clients Street Law has served in one session was 18, but there are more frequently fewer.  The afternoon sessions tend to be busier than the night sessions, and Street Law is always held on a Wednesday.  Historically, Wednesdays have the highest attendance. 

    Skagit Valley Community College tried to start a program like Whatcom’s Street Law, but, due to budget cuts, have had to eliminate their paralegal program, said Ivarinen.  She said there is nothing exactly like Street Law anywhere else. 

    “I think it’s just a very nice service,” Christensen said. 

    The next Street Law sessions will be held Wednesday, May 11 and May 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  It is important to remember that Street Law is only the beginning of the legal process.

    “Time in the law is like time in geology,” said Ivarinen.  Which is to say, everything takes forever.

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