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Videoconferencing in Legal Assistance Clinics

Posted by Philip M. Yovetich | Jul 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

As a summer legal intern for Law For All, one of the projects we work on is doing free legal consultation as part of a clinic with Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP). As of this post, these clinics are being held remotely due to social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19. Although the remote clinics are regularly held over phone calls, any time we can interact with a client over videoconferencing, the meeting has been much more productive than it would have been just over the phone.

Eastside Legal Assistance Program Logo (credit: ELAP)

On July 11, 2020, we had two ELAP client meetings – the first with a grandmother asking about third-party custody & non-parent visitation, the second was a client who had received notice of a parenting plan petition and wanted help in responding to it. While both meetings were productive, the second meeting was astronomically so, for the sole reason that we were able to meet with the client over Zoom.

In many of our cases, language and other communication barriers can be significant impediments. This was true for both of our meetings that day, but those impediments were immediately overcome as soon as we got on videoconferencing with the second client.

When we started our meeting with the second client, we were having trouble discerning what exactly the problem was. We asked the client if they were around a computer and offered to have them join us on Zoom. After a short walk-through on how to log in to our Zoom meeting, the client entered the meeting that was already being hosted by Sart. Upon being able to visually interact with the client, not only did the communication barriers disappear thanks to picking up on facial cues and body language, but we were able to determine that the papers that our client was served with had not actually been filed with the court, drastically changing the scope and issues of the meeting. This would not have been possible over audio-only phone calls and our success in this regard was thanks mostly to our ability to provide consultation over video.

Videoconferencing allows for a wider breadth of communication, an easier exchange of information, and a closer personal working relationship between the client and the consultant, all of which are desirable in this line of work. Because of ELAP and other organization's emphasis on cross-cultural communication and helping under-privileged communities, and because ease of communication is one of the most important aspects of cultural competency, these organizations should embrace videoconferencing as soon as possible, especially while most consultation services continue to be conducted remotely. In fact, we encourage these organizations to make videoconferencing a permanent tool in their repertoire, as the benefits it presents are widespread and not limited just to work affected by COVID-19.

About the Author

Philip M. Yovetich

Philip recently joined the team as a law student intern. He was born and raised in Seattle and has a deep affinity for his city and his community. His interests in human rights and aiding the disenfranchised led him to the Seattle University School of Law and eventually to Law for All. In additio...

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