Columbia Legal Services represents a wide variety of people who are low-income or vulnerable. For information about the clients we represent, see Who We Serve. This representation has led CLS to do recent work in the general areas of law discussed below, often in collaboration with other legal aid organizations and private attorneys. We will become involved in new areas as new client needs become known.
- Employment / Low Wage Workers: CLS is one of the legal aid organizations that help farm workers and others who labor for low wages to enforce and advance their basic workplace rights. These workers seek payment of promised wages, workplace safety and protection of health, and employer observance of minimum wage and overtime laws. CLS also represents workers who have suffered retaliation because they sought basic workplace rights or suffered discrimination because of their race or national origin. With help from CLS and other legal aid organizations over recent years, low-income workers have achieved important improvements in their lives, including protection from highly toxic pesticides and other workplace hazards, standards for safe worker housing, protection from recruitment abuses, unemployment insurance coverage, and more effective remedies for payment of wages.
- Homelessness & Housing: CLS represents homeless and other vulnerable, low-income households - renters, manufactured housing owners, and others - struggling to find or maintain safe and decent housing they can afford. We generally represent clients who cannot be represented by other members of the Alliance for Equal Justice or who have problems that are best addressed in ways that our are less able to undertake, for example through representation of clients before legislatures or administrative agencies to ensure that our federal, state, and local governments recognize and address the housing needs of homeless households and those most at risk of becoming homeless. Whenever possible, we collaborate with others on the national and state levels who work with low-income people on housing issues, such as the National Housing Law Project, the Housing Justice Network, the Washington State Low Income Housing Alliance, and the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless.
- Youth Law & Foster Care: CLS represents at-risk, homeless, and foster children and youth and their families. That representation has focused on inappropriate treatment by state and judicial systems designed to assist children and youth who are abused or neglected, homeless, have disabilities, or are incarcerated. The representation has also focused on systemic barriers to a free and appropriate education, including failures to serve students who are homeless, have disabilities, or who face barriers to education due to discrimination.
- Community Economic Development: Community economic development – “CED” for short – involves lawyers representing nonprofit organizations and groups of individuals whose goals are to improve their communities through a variety of projects designed to create jobs; address disparities in educational resources and outcomes; enhance financial services for low-income persons; assist tenants to take ownership of their homes; and improve conditions in and access to childcare. CED legal work is led by the community, acting through community organizations or groups of community members. CLS lawyers, often along with partner organizations or private lawyers, provide whatever legal tools are needed to achieve community goals, including transactional services, negotiation, litigation, and asking legislatures or administrative agencies to make decisions that benefit the community.
- Consumer Abuses: CLS works with other legal aid organizations and community partners such as the Coalition For Responsible Lending to address the consumer abuses and predatory practices that low-income people often experience. CLS represents clients trying to persuade the Washington Legislature to strengthen the rules and lower permissible interest rates on payday loans. CLS, due to a generous grant from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, also operates the Economic Justice Project, which addresses specific consumer abuses visited on low-income people such as fraud in car sales and financing.
- Education: Washington’s constitution declares that every child has the right to an education free from discrimination. Still, every day in Washington’s public schools children of different races are disciplined differently, and students of color – especially those learning English – face inequitable barriers from the use of standardized tests. CLS represents parents of English Language Learners to assist them in overcoming these educational problems their children face so that they gain a high quality education and the tools necessary to succeed in school and beyond. CLS established a Disproportionality in Education project and works with other legal aid and community organizations to address the issue of unequal education for some. We address the issues in a variety of ways, for example information gathering, community legal education, and legal representation of our clients in court and before legislatures and administrative agencies.
- Health & Disability: CLS represents low-income, elderly, and disabled people who rely on the Medicaid program for health care and other Medicaid-funded services in order to make health care and other services, including in-home care services, available as broadly as possible to adults and children. Along with other legal aid organizations, CLS has also assisted low-income, elderly, and disabled people when they are at risk of losing basic assistance such as Food Stamps and Medicaid.
- Institutions Project: The Institutions Project (IP) represents Washington residents confined in jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, mental health facilities, and facilities for people with developmental disabilities. IP representation has focused on institutional conditions of confinement, discrimination, sentencing and placement, alternatives to institutionalization, and access to courts, as well as issues related to rehabilitation, opportunities for reintegration into the community, and reductions in recidivism. For more on this CLS project, click here.
- Civil Rights: CLS represents clients in cases in which constitutional rights are at stake for low-income people, often in partnership with private attorneys and civil rights organizations. Recent examples include representation of a class of low-wage child care workers subject to improper search and impoundment of records; representation of a class of indigent persons charged with crimes who were denied effective assistance of counsel by a county’s inadequate public defense system; and representation of several hundred workers a jury found were discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin.
- Limited English Proficiency (LEP): People who do not speak English encounter significant obstacles in navigating the legal system. CLS and its partners in the Alliance For Equal Justice have formed a task force to work with clients in breaking down these barriers. We represent clients at both the state and county level to broaden oral interpretation and written translation services in courts, and in other government agencies to ensure that all people have meaningful access to our government so they can enforce their rights and defend their interests.
- Senior Law: The Seattle office of CLS provides a variety of services that benefit older residents of King County. (For most other counties, services are provided by the Northwest Justice Project.) Our services for individuals who are 60 or older are funded in major part by Seattle-King County Aging and Disability Services. We target services to those vulnerable older people who are most in need and in a way that best uses limited resources, by providing consultation, referral assistance, training and other assistance for social workers and advocates working in organizations that serve vulnerable older people. We accept some referrals of individual clients from those organizations when we are able.