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Summer program offers free legal advice in the park

Gonzaga law professor Gail Hammer listens to a client Saturday at Street Law, a pro bono legal clinic in Riverfront Park.  (Jesse Tinsley)
Gonzaga law professor Gail Hammer listens to a client Saturday at Street Law, a pro bono legal clinic in Riverfront Park. (Jesse Tinsley)

For some Spokane residents who have questions about child custody or their rights as renters, the bigger question is whether they can afford legal advice.

A lot of people in Spokane don’t have the financial resources to consult an attorney, the Center for Justice realized. So, for the past six years, the center has sponsored Street Law, a partnership with local attorneys and law students to offer free legal advice. Each Saturday during the summer, three lawyers and a law student set up tables and chairs in Riverfront Park, near the South Howard Bridge and the Looff Carrousel.

“The program tries to help anyone that can’t afford legal advice but it affects their life whether or not they can get help,” said Kaylyn Plumb, a Center for Justice employee and Street Law organizer.

Lawyers see an average of 15 to 20 people each Saturday, Plumb said. The most common issues are family law, such as child custody, and landlord-tenant issues, but the lawyers give advice on a range of topics. A similar program in Bellingham has been in place close to 15 years.

Gonzaga law student Diana Jensen Cramer is a Saturday volunteer who greets people and directs them to a lawyer based on their issue. She thinks the program is beneficial because it’s “done in a casual, sunny-day way, and it’s free.”

Michelle Jamison, of Spokane, said she heard about Street Law through the Center for Justice. Last Saturday she went because she needed advice on an issue related to the death of her father in another state.

“The lawyer made suggestions about where to find the information I needed. It’s a great program,” she said.

The program also helps attorneys. The Washington State Bar requires lawyers to do 30 hours per year of pro bono work, Cramer said. The American Bar Association sets a national standard of 50 pro bono hours a year.

Gail Hammer, a Gonzaga Law School professor, said the legal community has been trying to address the need for reduced-fee legal advice for years. It’s not unusual for an attorney in Spokane to charge $200 for a consultation to give legal advice, although it varies, Hammer said.

“The reduced-fee legal services can’t meet the demand,” Hammer said. “Many legal issues are complicated enough that people do need lawyers, but they can’t afford them.”

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.