Serving over 2,100 clients a year, and with 25 years in the legal profession, the St. Andrew Legal Clinic isn't your typical law firm.
Last month, the law firm Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf, as well as its supporters, raised $45,000 for St. Andrew during a wine-tasting and auction event at the University Club. While most legal firms aren't in the business of taking charity, St. Andrew, a non-profit law firm providing reduced-cost family law service to low-income clients, needs community contributions to help provide essential services.
According to Katie O'Brien, vice-president of development for the firm, the average cost of a family law case for the clinic's clients is around $1,500 — compared to an average of $5,000 at a typical law firm. Not just everyone is allowed to contract for legal services, O'Brien said. The firm's pricing schedule is based on a sliding scale according to income; over 80 percent of the clients make an annual income below the federal poverty guidelines. Often, O'Brien said, clients must be selected on individual situations because of the firm's limited resources.
"There are always more (people) that need legal services than we have (resources for)," she said.
Although every client's problems are very personal experiences, the firm sometimes must decide which client is the neediest.
Many of the cases that the firm's 12 attorneys work on involve women and children. O'Brien said one of the biggest needs in the low-income community is custody, divorce and child support issues. She said the firm serves a majority of women who often are in the situation of having little or no money.
The attorneys working for the law firm are some of the most dedicated attorneys around, O'Brien said. They tend to make less than their colleagues who work in other law firms, and the emotional impact of many cases can be very stressful. On the other hand, O'Brien said their attorneys gain a lot of courtroom experience. About half of the attorneys at St. Andrew are fairly fresh out of law school, and the other half are experienced attorneys who enjoy the work.
Without the legal firm, O'Brien estimates that many low-income families facing the prospect of custody battles, divorce or child support decisions would either have to represent themselves or settle the dispute out of court. Within a legal framework, she said people are held accountable and can often find positive resolutions to difficult situations.
Enter Wendy Brown. Engaged in a difficult custody battle over her then 5-year-old daughter, Brown would not have been able to afford to hire an attorney. She called her attorney, James LaSasso, "invaluable." Although full custody was not gained until years later, she credited LaSasso for attaining that goal.
"He's a very legal-minded professional," she said.
Although the three custody battles – which were spaced years apart – were emotionally tough for both her and her daughter, her life has taken a turn for the better. Through the legal dispute, Brown and her ex-husband are now friends; she has full custody of her daughter; and she is taking classes at Mt. Hood Community College.
Without the St. Andrew Legal Clinic, she believes she would not have ever attained custody of her daughter.
The money that was raised through the wine-tasting event and auction will go into the firm's general fund, which O'Brien said helps keep costs down for clients such as Brown. To learn more about the clinic or its night clinic consultations, call 503-281-1500 or visit www.salcgroup.org.