State Plan Spotlight: NW Consumer Law Center’s 3-Pronged Approach
By Noah Samuels, Executive Director of the Northwest Consumer Law Center
The Northwest Consumer Law Center (NWCLC) zealously advocates, litigates, and promotes access to justice for low and moderate income clients, and through its education programs, empowers consumers with the knowledge and resources to protect their rights. Since opening in 2013, NWCLC has served nearly 3000 clients, saved hundreds of homes from foreclosure, and given struggling Washingtonians their Constitutionally-protected fresh start from over $11 million in debt.
NWCLC could not have achieved these results if the organizations that comprise the Alliance for Equal Justice had not welcomed us warmly into their fold and entrusted us to partner with them to better serve our mutual clients. So when we were invited in late 2015 to join a group of Alliance organizations charged with helping the Access to Justice Board craft a new State Plan that would guide us in securing more justice for more people in need, we were honored and excited for the opportunity.
We are excited now for the opportunity to implement the Plan. This excitement, however, is necessarily tempered by real-world constraints that NWCLC and every Alliance organization must contend with. Resources have already been committed to certain programs. Board and staff culture have evolved in certain ways. Organizational missions define and limit the scope of work. And of course, funding – there’s never enough.
In the face of these constraints, my approach to implementing the ATJ State Plan is three-pronged: 1) Look for Opportunities, 2) Do What You Can, and 3) Keep the Conversation Going.
1. Look for Opportunities
Every strategic decision presents anopportunity to advance the Plan in some way. Recruiting new staff and board members presents opportunities to push for an increase in the diversity of our staff and board in furtherance of Goal 1, Strategy 2 of the Plan. Opportunities will constantly pop up outside the context of decision-making as well. The Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA) “Summit – Taking Action: Making Inclusion a Reality” held last October was an excellent opportunity to attend an event with a substantial race equity component in furtherance of Goal 1, Strategy 1.
2. Do What You Can
The Plan is in many ways aspirational, contemplating large visions and global ideals. It’s important not to get overwhelmed. Whatever you can do as an organization to “move the needle” over the next three years is valuable. When I find myself interacting with a client nowadays, for example, I try to take a couple extra minutes to find out more about what other legal and non-legal issues he or she might be dealing with, in furtherance of Goal 4. It’s not much of a burden on me, but it could transform his or her life.
3. Keep the Conversation Going
This is probably the most important prong. Only if the Plan persists in our conversations, will we be on the lookout for opportunities. I have a printed copy of the Plan in a visible spot on the bookcase in my office. I have an item on my to-do list that says “Think about ATJ Plan Implementation.” I’ll try to at least mention the Plan when I find myself in getting-to-know-you conversations with colleagues, when talking about NWCLC’s future over the next few years, or when discussing an important strategic decision.
The Access to Justice Board and the Alliance for Equal Justice have been pioneers in the field of legal aid for years. NWCLC is proud to be a part of this new movement to innovate our services and manifest racial equity such that justice is a reality for all people.
How Are You Approaching the Plan?
The Access to Justice Board would love to learn all the ways that Alliance organizations and partners are implementing the State Plan. You can share your approach with the Board through this online form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Board will use the information for better coordination and leveraging of partnerships throughout the Alliance.