Seattle University School of Law and Office of Civil Legal Aid form partnership to train lawyer advocates for low-income tenants

November 17, 2021

In response to a groundbreaking state law to protect low-income tenants in Washington state, Seattle University School of Law and the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) have formed the Housing Justice Collective to create a sustainable pipeline of highly competent and committed legal advocates for tenants throughout the state, both now and into the future.

This innovative partnership will establish courses, programs, and hands-on learning opportunities for Seattle U Law students, immersing them in landlord-tenant law so they are prepared to represent indigent tenants immediately upon graduation.

“Seattle University School of Law is well-positioned to fill this pressing need due to our strong commitment as a Jesuit law school to social justice, the diversity of our law students, and our record of being collaborative and proactively responsive to the needs of our state’s legal community,” said Dean Annette E. Clark.

In April, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a first-in-the-nation right to legal representation for indigent tenants facing eviction. When the law is fully implemented in April 2022, courts must appoint qualified attorneys to represent clients in eviction proceedings. OCLA is the state agency charged with administering the new right-to-counsel (RTC) program in all 37 counties in Washington; roughly 65 attorneys will be hired initially to help eligible tenants.

“The Housing Justice Collective is an innovative public-private partnership that brings together two institutions deeply committed to equity and justice in our legal system,” OCLA Director Jim Bamberger explained. “The Collective will provide a continuum of learning and professional support services that will deliver highly motivated, well-trained, and increasingly diverse new lawyers into the housing justice practice over many years.”

Both Seattle U Law and OCLA have made specific commitments to ensure the long-term viability of this program. Seattle U Law plans to add capacity to existing courses and develop new courses on landlord-tenant law, subsidized housing, the Fair Housing Amendments Act, and trauma-informed lawyering. Additionally, faculty will design skills training specific to eviction defense, including mediation and conflict resolution. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the racialization and bias inherent in the housing system. And law students will be able to obtain real-world experience through agencies that assist low-income tenants.

The Office of Civil Legal Aid has committed to funding two Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) grants for Seattle U Law students at the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project annually for the next three years, as well as supporting Seattle U Law efforts to obtain additional PILF grant funding. Additionally, OCLA will collaborate with and support Seattle U Law efforts to seek additional grant funding to expand the Housing Justice Collective.

In recent years, Seattle U Law’s faculty and students have developed initiatives to combat housing injustice and inequity, making its partnership in the Housing Justice Collective a natural next step for the law school:

  • Since 2015, Seattle U Law has housed the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, in which students conduct policy research, analysis, and advocacy on behalf of unhoused people.
  • The law school’s Access to Justice Institute partnered with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP) to hold an eviction defense clinic the past two years, through which students were introduced to eviction defense practice while assisting clients.
  • Seattle U Law faculty and HJP staff launched an innovative Housing Justice Clinic course last spring that was fully enrolled. Two participating students were hired by HJP immediately upon graduation in May. The clinic is again being held this fall and has garnered great student interest.
  • Seattle U Law made housing inequity the theme of new student orientation this past August. In addition to readings and discussions about the topic, students listened to a presentation by the HJP staff about racial justice and the important role of lawyers in challenging housing inequities.
  • The law school signed on to the Washington Race Equity and Justice Initiative in 2020.

“Our students have diverse and powerful lived experiences, and they are eager to use their legal skills to serve the public good by identifying and dismantling the systems that cause renters of color to be evicted at disproportionate rates,” Clark said.

About Seattle U Law

Rooted in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle University School of Law delivers an intellectually demanding legal education to a highly diverse community of law students. Our distinctive approach to student-centered, values-based education challenges students with a rigorous curriculum delivered in a supportive environment by accomplished faculty. This method, complemented by an extensive network of alumni and legal professionals, cultivates highly competent, practice-ready graduates who are committed to advancing equity, dignity, and justice at home and around the world.

About OCLA

OCLA is an independent judicial branch agency established to administer and oversee expenditure of state appropriations for civil legal aid services to low-income Washingtonians. It is institutionally committed to equity, inclusion, and diversity in the assessment of legal needs and the delivery of civil legal aid services. OCLA is a founding member of and embraces the Race Equity and Justice Commitments articulated by the Washington State Race Equity and Justice Initiative. OCLA works to ensure and support early identification, recruitment, and training of diverse attorneys, as well as support for attorneys and those interested in a public justice legal career.