SEATTLE — The vision of Northwest Justice Project (NJP), Washington State’s publicly funded legal aid program, is “Justice for All Low-Income People in Washington.”
For Michael Nelson of Grays Harbor County, this has meant recovery from substance abuse and crushing consumer debt, to stable employment, manageable repayments, and independent living—thanks to NJP legal representation. And for Sharmita Fontenot, her NJP lawyer has meant a protection order to keep she and her two children safe from her abusive husband, a divorce, and for the first time, real hope for a better future.
Getting these kind of results, however, is no small task. As an organization, NJP has over 200 employees, including 122 attorneys, and has 19 offices across the state. Running this far flung operation is Executive Director Cesar Torres, assisted by veteran legal services Administrator Sue Encherman.
“Demand for legal services greatly exceeds the number of lawyers we have,” says Encherman, “So we have to be smart about where we apply resources.”
NJP’s client service strategy, Encherman explains, starts with their CLEAR Hotline, which stands for Coordinated Legal Education, Advice, and Referral, that efficiently screens callers for eligibility, and routes them to a CLEAR attorney or paralegal for an in-depth interview to assess their legal problem. NJP staff then provides advice and immediate assistance if possible, or as needed, the caller is referred to the closest field office or other legal resource for matters that NJP does not handle—such as criminal law or personal injury. NJP also makes a number of legal resource materials available to the public, including a series of educational videos about common legal issues on NJP’s own YouTube channel. NJP also maintains WashingtonLawHelp.org, a website with a wealth of resources that gets over one million page views per year—one of the busiest sites of its kind in the nation.
Executive Director Cesar Torres has built an organization that places attorneys throughout the state in the communities they serve, but stresses coordination and teamwork. “We may be spread out over more than 19 offices, but it’s critical that we operate as one statewide law firm in serving our clients,” says Torres.
Leveraging information technology, Torres notes, plays a key role in enabling NJP to fulfill and expand its mission. In addition to a robust Web and media presence, NJP has continued to develop its IT infrastructure with the recent addition of the MetaJure® Smart Document Management system.
“MetaJure allows any of our lawyers at 19 locations throughout the state to be able to take advantage of work that 100+ lawyers are doing,” notes Encherman. “For example, recently one of our lawyers wanted to know if anyone had drafted a particular type of complaint, and in a few seconds, a MetaJure search located 50 examples— it’s fabulous for finding something fast to take advantage of your colleagues’ work; otherwise you could feel really isolated in a rural office,” says Encherman.
NJP attorneys are similarly enthusiastic. “MetaJure is fantastic,” says Senior Attorney Karen Campbell. “It has improved the efficiency of our office and sharing of resources amongst staff. Because of MetaJure, we are able to provide even better representation to our clients.”
Funding is a perpetual challenge for Torres. Like similar organizations in all other states, NJP is funded by a combination of grants from the State of Washington, Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit established and funded by Congress, as well as private donors who believe in NJP’s mission of expanding access to justice to those who cannot otherwise afford legal representation.
“MetaJure is a true leader among technology companies because they make their product available at no cost to NJP and other Legal Aid organizations in other states,” says Torres. “This model, if followed by other tech companies, will be critically important to our equal justice mission as our organizations navigate the transition to AI and big data.”
Currently, MetaJure is working with a number of state and national organizations to promote this model, including the American Bar Association’s Center for Legal Innovation, and others. Says MetaJure CEO, Rob Arnold, “We are proud to be a sponsor of and partner with Northwest Justice in the great work their attorneys do every day on behalf of their clients.”
“MetaJure is catching on as law firms and legal organizations realize that gaining access to all their work product, wherever located, is a crucial first step towards finally realizing the full promise of information technology,” says Arnold.
To learn more about how MetaJure can unlock your firm’s documents, knowledge, and information, visit www.metajure.com, or call (206) 812-8750 to set up a web demo.
For additional information on the Northwest Justice Project, please visit www.nwjustice.org