Public Service Voices

The Duty to Give Something Back

By Octavia Hathaway

I was one of those people who went into the law late in life. Prior to law school, I had a very successful career in medical research, and indeed, I was part of the team that was the first to implant an infant primate with a cochlear implant. I carried this "need" to serve into law school and as a lawyer.

For three years, I was a staff attorney at the Unemployment Law Project, a non-profit law firm that provides legal representation to claimants at administrative hearings. My clients were almost always desperate having lost their jobs. The unemployment check literally was the only thing separating them from homelessness. In fact, many of my clients did become homeless as a result of losing their jobs. I will always remember Tommy. He told me he had moved to a spot under the freeway. Since it is against ethical rules to loan or give clients money, I made him walk to my office for a 9 am appointment. He arrived early. I told him to go look for a job in downtown Seattle since he was already there. He came back about two hours later almost in tears because he did find a job that very day. He called me his guardian angel.

I do not practice law anymore, but continue to be very active in bar work and pro bono work. I am on the board of directors of the Northwest Justice Project. It is an honor to be a part of this wonderful organization and to consider part of my family the nearly 200 people there who have chosen to forsake money in order to help thousands and thousands of low income citizens of Washington State. Their dedication and commitment to service will never be forgotten.

Many years ago, I volunteered to be the Clinic Coordinator for the King County Bar Association's International District Neighborhood Legal Clinic. I still volunteer there. This is a great program with some very dedicated attorney volunteers and law students. The clients there are almost all Asian-Pacific Islander. The most common sentiment was how useful it is to them to discuss their legal issues with an attorney who spoke their native language. I met some of the nicest people on earth volunteering at the clinic. Many of them actually did not have a legal problem; they just thought they did. That half hour or one hour with them saved a lot of headache and needless legal fees.

All of us are blessed to be able to attend law school and practice law. I believe it is our moral duty to give something back. What better way and more meaningful way than to perform legal services work for those who need it the most. Imagine these things: losing your job; getting sick and having no health insurance; receiving an eviction notice; child custody battles; discrimination. Imagine crying out for help, but nobody listened. These things are happening everyday to someone. Perhaps it has happened to you or someone you love. I, for one, cannot stand by and do nothing. I hope you cannot either.

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