What is Columbia Legal Services (CLS)?
Columbia Legal Services (CLS) is a legal services program that provides free civil legal assistance to low income persons who live in the state of Washington.
How many offices does CLS have and where are they located?
CLS has five offices. They are located at Seattle, Olympia, Wenatchee, Yakima, and Kennewick (Tri-Cities Office). However, CLS can assist low income persons or groups in any part of the state, even in areas where we do not currently have an office. For office locations, see the Offices page.
What kind of legal work does CLS do?
We typically represent low income individuals and groups on legal issues that affect a large number of low income people, usually where there is no other legal aid organization available to assist. We work on a wide variety of legal problems that impact low income people. Examples of the kinds of work we do for clients can be found here.
Does CLS help with individual legal problems?
Although CLS concentrates mostly on critical legal problems affecting large numbers of low-income people, CLS does represent some clients on individual legal problems. However, our clients are usually referred to us by other legal services organizations and by individuals and organizations that serve low income persons and groups. If you are a low-income person seeking legal help, please see our Legal Help page.
Are there other organizations that provide civil legal services for low income people in Washington with their legal problems?
Yes. There are a number or organizations providing civil legal services to low income people. These organizations, which form the Alliance for Equal Justice, work together to use resources as efficiently as possible. A comprehensive list of these organizations, listed by county with contact information, may be accessed online at Washington Law Help.
Do all of the organizations do the same kind of work?
The work often overlaps but is not the same in every organization. For example, the largest legal aid program, the Northwest Justice Project, provides a broad variety of legal services, but because of limited resources and funding requirements is not able to work on every kind of case. Other organizations address particular needs for some low-income people, such as assistance for youth at risk of legal difficulty (TeamChild) or immigration services (Northwest Immigrant Rights Project). CLS’s main purpose is to fill gaps by doing legal work for low income people - primarily work benefiting large numbers - that other organizations are less able to do.
Does CLS’s work usually involve cases that end up in court?
Some of CLS’s legal work involves representing clients in state and federal court. But this is only a part of what CLS does. Because we have limited resources, we use the most effective tools available that can provide the most efficient solution to a legal problem that also benefits all people affected. Sometimes it involves filing or joining a lawsuit on behalf of an individual or client group, but it can also involve meeting with local, state and federal officials to try to change agency policies that affect numerous low income persons. Or when there are not other alternatives, we might join with others interested to request legislation that will benefit low income persons. Reports of how we have worked on some of our cases, can be found here. Examples of current and recent client groups we have assisted are located here.