The Evergreen Branch Library will start a new legal aid clinic on Thursday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Evergreen Branch Library will start a new legal aid clinic on Thursday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Legal clinic coming to Everett library for low-income patrons

A librarian said “there are just not a ton of resources” for poor people facing civil legal issues. The new clinic hopes to close the gap.

EVERETT — Are you getting evicted? Do you need help with a divorce or a custody case? Is a debt collector after you?

Starting Thursday, low-income Snohomish County residents can get free legal help at the library.

Under a new partnership between the Everett Public Library and non-profit Snohomish County Legal Services, two attorneys will set up at the Evergreen branch on the second Thursday of each month from 4 to 6 p.m. Residents can get 30-minute consultations on civil legal matters. The lawyers won’t represent the users of the program, but give some advice.

The goal is to educate and empower people, said Jane Pak, executive director of Snohomish County Legal Services.

“People really underestimate the barriers, but then even the lack of information or misinformation out there,” said Pak, one of the clinic’s attorneys.

The guidance isn’t for criminal cases. Unlike criminal defendants, people engaged in civil cases may not be able to get a lawyer. And without any help, people can lose their homes or jobs, said Abigail Cooley, the library’s director.

“We know that having access to legal resources is absolutely critical for people who are fighting unlawful evictions, maintaining custody of their children or addressing other types of challenges that might involve their personal security and their general well-being,” she said.

As a general rule, residents need to have an income under 200% of the federal poverty level to qualify for the help. That would be $27,180 for a single person; $36,620 for a family of two; and $55,520 for a family of four. But there could be exceptions to that parameter, Pak said.

Research shows poorer people rarely get legal aid in their civil cases. For example, a study released this year found Americans on a low income “received no or inadequate legal help for a staggering 92% of all the civil legal problems that impacted them substantially.” Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of low-income households experienced a civil legal problem in the past year, according to the report from the non-profit Legal Services Corporation.

The report notes libraries can serve as a hub for information and services.

“There are just not a ton of resources,” said Naomi Clegg, adult services librarian in Everett. “There’s not a lot of options, and the options that are there are limited, or they’re expensive, or they are not advertised. They’re hard to find. So this is definitely one, admittedly small, way of addressing that gap.”

Users can get help understanding a parenting plan in a custody case, learn if they qualify for other services and work on complex paperwork with someone who understands the process. With printers and computers at the ready, a library can be the ideal location for such a clinic, Pak said.

SCLS’s other clinics tend to be more focused on a single issue — like the walk-up clinic on housing for local tenants at the Snohomish County Courthouse. Or one for family law. This one at the library, on the other hand, is to help with any civil legal needs. It’s similar to one SCLS runs at Everett Recovery Cafe.

The clinic is starting off as a three-month pilot, but library leaders hope it can become permanent after that.

Consultations will take place in a private meeting room at the library at 9512 Evergreen Way. Those interested can reserve appointments online at But the first session this week has already been booked. Walk-ins are also accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Clegg now has a wait list for the program.

Pak said she hopes to add attorneys to increase capacity.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439;; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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