A hallmark of Foster Garvey’s Pro Bono program is finding opportunities to help people who would not normally have access to representation. Through the Free Federal Law Clinic, a new program run by the Oregon Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, lawyers have an opportunity to volunteer to meet for 30 minutes with pro se litigants to advise them on courtroom procedures, including how to file documents and manage their litigation, as well as to answer any questions they have about the process. The federal court provides malpractice coverage, a meeting space in Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, engagement letters and notice ahead of time to run conflict checks with the volunteer attorney’s law firm. Not only does this program help connect people in need with sought-after legal resources, the Court has made the process of providing and accessing pro bono counsel seamless for both attorneys and litigants.
In one example, Foster Garvey attorney Kathleen Bricken helped a pro se litigant who already had a pending lawsuit against a police department but needed help amending his complaint to overcome a Rule 12 motion to dismiss the case. Kathleen relied on precedent involving a police case from approximately 15 years ago, as well as research and complaints regarding constitutional claims and other issues of immunity. She delved into unlawful search and seizures and then helped her pro se client limit and focus his complaint on the claim that had the highest likelihood of success – a First Amendment free speech claim. The client agreed to focus his claims on alleging that an improper search and seizure of his home was a retaliatory act to his news article criticizing the police on an earlier stop and frisk of him. Kathleen found another case with a similar styled claim that another court had recognized as sufficient to state a claim. The client still encountered problems with his case that would plague him later, such as a court signing the search warrant. But he was still grateful for the non-judgmental assistance, which is critical to instilling in disaffected pro se litigants a respect for the system and a feeling of more equitable access to justice, rather than frustration or hopelessness.