2004 Fall, 44. Experiences of Public Interest Coalition Fellows - Working With Clients on Front Lines of Civil Liberties.

AuthorBy Sam Sumitami

New Hampshire Bar Journal

2004.

2004 Fall, 44.

Experiences of Public Interest Coalition Fellows - Working With Clients on Front Lines of Civil Liberties

New Hampshire Bar JournalFall 2004, Volume 45, Number 3Experiences of Public Interest Coalition Fellows - Working With Clients on Front Lines of Civil LibertiesBy Sam SumitamiBefore my first day, I will admit that I was na

I soon realized that the day-to-day work of the NHCLU was not as public and newsworthy as I had expected, but it was no less important nor any less glorifying. It is often the resolution of minute, seemingly insignificant issues, affecting only a small number of individuals that have lasting impact.

Throughout the summer I took on a wide variety of tasks, from writing client letters, determining which cases the volunteer attorneys should consider, to researching possible challenges to pending state legislation. However, one aspect of my work that I particularly valued was the one-on-one client interaction and the lessons in lawyering that came with it. Previously, I had a general, abstract idea of the client-centered nature of a lawyer's work, but I had not understood its full implications until I experienced it firsthand.

Because the NHCLU responds to many civil rights complaints from inmates in the state prison and county houses of correction, I had the opportunity to interview clients regarding these complaints. In one instance I interviewed an inmate by myself. The client had contacted the CLU complaining that his visitation rights had been severely restricted because of an administrative snafu. In order to obtain documents detailing the timeline of the restrictions and to ascertain what the client had been told by relevant authorities, I embarked on my first solo interview. Upon arriving on the prison grounds, I told the guards who I was, under whose authority I was visiting, and who I was there to see. After completing the necessary verification procedures, I was admitted to the attorney visiting room. Only when I saw another attorney and his assistant enter the visiting room next door, did I fully comprehend my situation - I was there by myself, and although there may be subsequent interviews, the information that I would obtain would be all that my supervising attorney would be able to use to determine the merits of the case.

After offering the inmate a soda (as I imagined any good attorney would), in the best "lawyer" tone of voice I could muster, I said, "I read your complaint, and I'm very sorry that you're in this unfortunate situation." Then I asked him to describe the problem to me in detail. He proceeded to show me...

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