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In Attorney at Work’s new Q&A series, Mary Juetten checks in with leaders and entrepreneurs working to solve the access to justice problem. This time, a Denver lawyer focused on programs to provide access to legal services to disadvantaged single parents.
Sarah G. Kieny is a managing attorney at Fears Nachawati, based out of Dallas. I met her at the 2018 Group Legal Services Association annual meeting where she talked about her then-new pro bono initiative, Law Nights. Last year, Sarah coordinated a quarterly “Law Night” program with Denver nonprofit Warren Village, for the specific purpose of offering legal access to disadvantaged single parents who are transitioning to self-support. She continues to expand this program to other local schools and communities.
Sarah received her J.D. from Creighton University Law School in 1994, and a bachelor’s in religious studies and sociology in 1991 from Regis College in Denver. She currently is a managing attorney at Fears Nachawati, where she is involved in many development projects for the firm.
In addition to Law Night, Sarah volunteers with her Neapolitan mastiff Milton (he is therapy dog qualified) at the Denver Children’s Home, a school for at-risk children. Sarah and Milton hope to expand Milton’s love of people browsing through a program at the Denver International Airport.
Sarah is a native of southern Colorado and enjoys running and other outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer.
How do you define access to justice? Access without hesitation to an attorney who can educate on the legal systems and your legal rights
Tell us about your connection to access to justice. Attorney Richard Poormon and I created Law Nights as a way to educate and empower persons who do not have an attorney on their speed-dial. The mission of Law Nights is to increase access to the justice system for low-income families and single-parent households. Attorneys are a central part of the American justice system. By employing a “simple consultation” model, attorneys meet with “clients,” learn about that person’s legal issues and needs, and offer both legal and practical advice in a single sitting. Consultations, in English and Spanish, are provided in private or semi-private settings at the host facility. On any given night, the most popular areas of law tend to be immigration, family (divorce, custody, child support), criminal, and landlord-tenant issues.
Law Nights began with a conversation with the director of Warren Village, a Denver nonprofit “dedicated to helping low-income, single-parent families become self-sufficient – and stay that way.” More specifically, Warren Village provides safe, affordable housing, early care and education, and a variety of family services. Living at Warren Village is “not a handout, it’s a hand up.” Although all of Warren Village’s residents must be committed to achieving personal and economic self-security, legal issues often lurk in the background. Law Nights was founded to help fill this gap.
Law Nights recently expanded to include consultations with parents at Adam City Middle School in Commerce City. Adam City’s demographic is predominately low-income and minority. Immigration issues tend to dominate these consultations. Our most recent addition has been the Denver Indian Center serving the Native American community of Colorado.
Law Nights attorneys respect the privacy of all persons with whom they consult. We never ask for money or identification of any sort, and all conversations are confidential. We offer legal advice, not judgments.
We hope to expand Law Nights across more communities in the Denver metro area and increase the frequency of consultations at existing partners. We can only attain this objective by increasing our attorney ranks. (If you would like to volunteer, contact me below.)
How are you solving access to justice for your clients?
Access to attorneys with compassion, no judgment, in their communities.
What role does technology play in access to justice?
Simple technology, showing clients’ websites, forms, helping print documents and navigating the online world for legal resources on the technology of their comfort – smartphones, laptops or whatever they have access to on a daily basis.
Do you see the “digital divide” (access to technology) as an issue?
Yes, because technology costs money and requires some digital savvy.
Do you see client knowledge of legal issues (or the education gap) as an issue?
Yes, that is why access on a grassroots level in a comfortable, accessible location can take the fear and mystery out of the legal world and empower the client.
What have you had to change based on feedback?
We need more help in the translation of another language.
What have you learned the hard way?
We cannot always plan the way we wish: the number of lawyers willing to help; areas of practice needed; bilingual needs. We have to be able to roll with it.
How are you growing the program?
I have enlisted a colleague to help oversee the program so we can grow, expand and reach more communities.
Where does funding come from?
No funding is needed for this program, just volunteers.
What is your best tip for supporting access to justice?
Do what is easy for you as the supporter. If it is easy it will happen.
Where is the A2J movement going?
It is growing and becoming the norm, hopefully. It should be an expectation, not a luxury.
Where are you going?
Toward more and better. Access to justice efforts through group legal services plans such as LegalShield. and volunteer programs such as Law Nights are just the beginning. I hope to develop my legal career more with diversity and frequency through A2J and other initiatives, such as increasing women leaders in the legal field with an emphasis on providing access to justice.
If you would like to become a contributor to Law Nights and consult with low-income families and parents in real need of legal advice, contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about group legal services plans from both the lawyer and consumer perspective at www.glsa.com.
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