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Inaugural Street Law Clinic Deemed a Success

“I’m thrilled with the way things went.”

by and

The verdict is in.

"I'm thrilled with the way things went," said Erika Birch, attorney at Strindberg and Scholnick. "We'll debrief and make some adjustments, but this was a big success."

Birch sat in a conference room of the Boise Main Public Library with her fellow attorneys Feb. 11 after spending two tightly packed hours helping Boise citizens with a litany of legal challenges. The four lawyers joined five law students: --three from the University of Idaho and two from Concordia University: --to staff Boise's first-ever Street Law Clinic, sponsored by the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association.

"I asked myself a few years ago, 'Why doesn't Idaho have a street law clinic?' and it dawned on me that maybe there wasn't a good source of law students in Boise," said Birch. "But when the third-year law students from the U of I came down to Boise and Concordia opened up their new law school, we knew this would be a great thing."

"The students did fantastic," said Jody Nafzger, Concordia's director of experiential learning. "A really great job."

Quinn Perry, administrator with the ITLA, said the students weren't the only ones nervous leading up to the inaugural event.

"I've got to admit that I had anxiety all [Sunday] night thinking about this," said Perry. "But the press really helped. The majority of the citizens we spoke to said they read about the clinic in Boise Weekly (BW, News, "Boise Street Law Clinic Poised to Begin," Feb. 6, 2013)."

Perry's colleague, ITLA Executive Director Barbara Jorden, said the clinic dealt with numerous issues.

"We had a couple of criminal cases, a couple of protection orders, collection issues, a contract dispute, landlord/tenant issues and worker's compensation complaints," said Jorden.

Crystal Cochell was one of the participants.

"I'm going to file for divorce," she told BW. "I'm hoping to get some direction. It's all new for me but it's a good thing. After 37 years, the kids are grown and it was time."

Cochell added that she wasn't inclined to contact an attorney advertised on television.

"I think they do a lot of shifty stuff," said Cochell, who prepared to meet with the law students who questioned her as part of the clinic's intake process.

Following the intake, the students consulted with the attorneys who, in many instances, met with the participants alongside the students after some analysis.

"They told me where I needed to go and who I needed to talk to and what forms I needed to get," Cochell told BW following her consultation. "Tomorrow, I'll print them out and submit them. It was really simple, maybe 20 minutes."

But not all of the cases were as simple.

"We had a pretty difficult case," said Mary Hobson, a 35-year veteran of the bar and legal director of the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program. "And I must say that one of our students handled that case extremely well. I can't tell you anything about the case, but it was a civil matter. And the student could draw from some experience he had in working in the prosecutor's office."

Another participant, who asked not to be identified because of his pending claim, told BW that he was injured on a construction site in July 2012, rupturing three discs in his lower back, preventing him from work for seven months.

"I've been to a few attorneys already," he said. "It's an uphill battle. I came down here to see if indeed this is free legal aid as they described it. Maybe there's something they can do."

Indeed, after the legal consultation, the man said he got some answers."

"They were very helpful."

Birch said a lot of what attorneys do is "counsel people."

"Eighty percent of the people I meet with employment cases don't necessarily have a case," she said. "Listening to their story is equally important."

She said the clinic's experience was invaluable to the students.

"That's something they can't really teach you in a classroom," she said. "There's nothing like this kind of experience."

Birch added that the clinic's first 16 participants were "just about right" for the staff of volunteer lawyers and students. ITLA reached out to its membership and about 20 Boise-based attorneys volunteered to participate in future clinics.

"If we need to, we can either add an additional hour to the clinic or even add another date each month," she said. "But for now, the second Monday of each month from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. seems to work just fine."

And the mix of legal expertise was ideal as well.

"Mary [Hobson] has done a ton of family law, Jody [Nafzger] has a lot of criminal law experience, I do employment law and Kira [Pfisterer] does a lot of general litigation," said Birch.

Pfisterer, of the Boise-based Hepworth, Janis and Kluksdal law firm, said that the Street Law Clinic speaks volumes about Boise as a legal community.

"I think it strengthens our legal community and our community as a whole," she said. "It's a good, responsible community-building thing to do