Eliza Finley & Will Watts of Public Counsel

Eliza Finley & Will Watts of Public Counsel

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest nonprofit law firm specializing in delivering pro bono legal services. Since 2014, YPI has worked with Public Counsel attorneys to assist individuals and families in the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood and Promise Zone.

One benefit of this 3-year long relationship we’ve had with YPI is the relationship that we’ve been able to build with service providers through the Promise Neighborhood initiative and at the FamilySource Center. Because they are the ones out that are out there interfacing with the community all day long every single day. And so what that means is that so many people are getting legal services that they wouldn’t have gotten if they hadn’t come through YPI.

ELIZA:

When I was a teenager, my Dad, who was deaf, was doing really well at the company where he worked. He was a foreman, so he was running huge jobs helping install wires in these new buildings going up in Silicon Valley. He was doing great. Then there was new ownership with the company where he worked and then they just fired him. They didn’t say it was because he was deaf. They said it was because they were downsizing or whatever, but we all knew it was because he was deaf and they didn’t want to work with him. He was at the top of his game and you could tell that he was just so heartbroken. That was hard for me to see. That definitely shaped me.

WILL:

I grew up in rural Virginia. My parents were the first graduates of an integrated high school in the area where I grew up. It was the same high school that I went to. And because of their experiences growing up in the south, they took a lot of pride in the importance of education and basically instilled in both me and my sister, the importance of being able to think about going to college. They didn’t have that opportunity. They ended up working and starting their family right after high school. But they instilled in both my sister and I that it was really important to think about education. There was no question that we’d go to college.

WILL:

One reason why I think Public Counsel’s relationship with YPI has been so wonderful is because we realize—that there’s a huge deficit in the number of legal resources out there and so one of the ways that we’ve been able to be as effective as possible is partnering with an agency and then leveraging their resources in terms of training their case workers, training their outreach workers on a variety of issues, so that they can be issue spotters, but also so that they can provide that information to individuals as well.

ELIZA:

We provide free legal assistance to low-income families in East Hollywood. What that looks like is that if you have any legal issue, you are welcome to come in and I will help you figure out what to do with that legal issue. So if you come in with a housing, education, or benefits issue, then I can provide you with a lot of legal advice about your situation and possibly take you on for legal representation depending on the type of case it is.

One benefit of this 3-year long relationship we’ve had with YPI is the relationship that we’ve been able to build with service providers through the Promise Neighborhood initiative and at the FamilySource Center. Because they are the ones out that are out there interfacing with the community all day long every single day. And so what that means is that so many people are getting legal services that they wouldn’t have gotten if they hadn’t come through YPI.

ELIZA:

When it comes to housing, it is extremely rewarding to be able to step in and defend a bogus eviction and keep a family in a house. That’s extremely rewarding. Out of all the needs you have, stopping a family from being homeless is extremely important. So being able to help a family stay in their home is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.

One reason why I think Public Counsel’s relationship with YPI has been so wonderful is because we realize—that there’s a huge deficit in the number of legal resources out there and so one of the ways that we’ve been able to be as effective as possible is partnering with an agency and then leveraging their resources in terms of training their case workers, training their outreach workers on a variety of issues, so that they can be issue spotters, but also so that they can provide that information to individuals as well.

WILL:

I think the theme throughout is always sometimes people just knowing that they have someone in their corner. Because oftentimes they’ve been shuffled around or they’re dealing with a landlord that’s harassing them or a school system that’s not respecting their child’s needs or whatever the case may be, just to oething else comes up because they at least felt heard.

So I think just trying to be reminded of well, if it weren’t for us all being there to help, there wouldn’t be anyone helping at all. You have to think about well I did bring something else to the table and I did my small part of hopefully changing the way this landlord will treat other tenants knowing that there are certain rights that they have and certain laws that they have to abide by.

ELIZA:

You go into this knowing that your whole life is living and breathing the fight.

A better world would be one where people could just set that aside and just treat other people with decency and not put profits above all else. I know that that’s a tough thing to wish for, but in an ideal world, people would put shelter and food and basic respect above their own personal profit motives.

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