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Jimmy sits down with Elizabeth A Soulé, executive director of MetroWest legal Services, to discuss the purpose of Civil Legal Aid and the challenges of serving the legal needs of the disenfranchised in MetroWest Massachusetts and the nation.
The mission of MetroWest Legal Services is to provide legal advocacy to protect and advance the rights of the poor, elderly, disabled and other disenfranchised people in our service area and to assist them in obtaining legal, social and economic justice. We help our clients secure access to basic needs and challenge institutional barriers in order to achieve equal justice for all.
MetroWest Legal services is the Humor for Humanity Beneficiary for this episode. Donations can be made Here
Topics discussed in this episode include:
- Betsy explains Civil Legal Aid and how vital it is to the poor who wouldn’t otherwise have a right to an attorney (01:02)
- The Right to Counsel movement in the civil context (01:57)
- The priorities of MetroWest Legal Services in serving the individuals who need their help (05:00)
- What keeps Betsy going after 33 years as Executive Director of MetroWest Legal Services (07:32)
Connect with MetroWest Legal Services
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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors.
Jimmy Tingle 0:05
Hello, everybody and welcome to the show. Our guest. I am so honored to have her on the show today. She is the executive director of Metro West legal services. Her name is Betsy slay. And Betsy, I want to know, you do great work at Metro West legal services. You’ve been there for 13 years. How did you rise to the level of executive director of Metro West legal services?
Betsy Soule 0:31
Well, thanks for having me, Jimmy. I’ve actually been at Metro West for 33 years 33,
Jimmy Tingle 0:37
I already made a mistake, I can’t believe it.
Betsy Soule 0:42
I started here, right out of law school. I’ve been here my whole career. And I started as a staff attorney, representing senior citizens, and then worked my way into being the supervising attorney for the elder and benefits unit. And then 13 years ago, I became the Executive Director.
Jimmy Tingle 1:02
Okay, and you’re working with civil legal aid. Now, what exactly is that? And how is that different from the public perception of legal aid?
Betsy Soule 1:11
Well, civil legal aid is sort of the counterpart to public defenders or CPCs. Attorneys in Massachusetts, a lot of people have the misconception that they are similar in that if you are an indigent or poor criminal defendant, you have a right to an attorney. And in civil legal aid, although you’re dealing with a lot of life and death issues, if you’re poor, you don’t have a right to an attorney. And so that’s the big difference that sometimes people get confused about.
Jimmy Tingle 1:43
Wow, that’s very enlightening. I had no idea that that was the case. Is there a movement? Or are you among the people who are advocating to make civil legal aid? Right, just like for a criminal defendant?
Betsy Soule 1:57
Yeah, it’s interesting. You should say that because there is a real movement for what they’re calling right to counsel in the civil context. They call it sort of civil Gideon because Gideon versus Rain Wainwright was this Supreme Court case that established a right to an attorney, if you were a poor criminal defendant, there is a right there is a movement for right to counsel in certain areas, such as evictions, domestic violence cases, and some others were, although it’s not your liberty being taken away from you in that you could end up incarcerated, there are some really basic rights, a right to have a roof over your head a right to be safe, and have your children be safe from abuse or neglect. And so there is a movement, and there are some bills pending in the legislature around a right to counsel and eviction action. So but like anything, it’s going to be a process and it’s taking a long time to make that reality.
Jimmy Tingle 2:57
Well, let me tell you something, Betsy, Sue lay, when this podcast hits the general public, the movement will go to another level. Excellent. That’s the tangled difference.
Betsy Soule 3:08
All right, well, I’m ready. Let’s do it.
Jimmy Tingle 3:11
One thing about this pandemic, and since we’re talking about legal aid and civil legal aid, the idea of being able to communicate with somebody to navigate whatever system it is, whether it’s unemployment insurance, whether in your case, it’s housing, and just basic questions. I mean, I have a master’s degree, I had to apply for the PPP loans, I wanted to talk to somebody to help me check the right box and fill out the right form correctly, I did it with a Small Business Association, I did it with score. And this is just a common sense, essential service that people need. And like I said, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I admit. But even though I have a master’s degree, I was having all kinds of problems with it. So if I’m having problems with it, I imagine people who might have maybe a high school education would have an even more difficult time doing that. And that’s kind of what you’re doing.
Betsy Soule 4:11
Yeah, I mean, you make a good point. And we’ve heard that from people like in this pandemic, and when the recession hit in 2008, saying similar things to you, you know, I’m a highly educated person or a well educated person, and I can’t figure out this government bureaucracy that I have to go through to get unemployment benefits or to achieve some other goal that they’re looking for. So when you think about our clients who are marginalized and impoverished, they might have a limited education, they might not speak English, they might have mental health issues or other issues that make it more difficult for them to navigate these systems. And so it can be very hard for anybody who’s not familiar with the system to know how to approach it and how to navigate it successfully.
Jimmy Tingle 4:59
And so in In terms of the services that you’re offering people, what are the categories that you’re offering civil legal aid in,
Betsy Soule 5:07
we have priority areas, because as I always tell people like in Metro West area, we have over 40,000 people who would be eligible for our services, if they were to ask for them in terms of their financial eligibility. And we have 18 lawyers, so do the math, it doesn’t really work so well. So so our priority areas are housing, helping people who are being evicted to stay in their homes, or people who are facing foreclosure to prevent the foreclosure. So there’s the housing bucket, that’s the number one requested service, domestic violence, people who are victims of domestic violence and who are trying to get out of that situation, who have children, to help them to get the protection from abuse, to be able to leave their abusers and to be able to get appropriate custody visitation, child support and variety of orders so that they can sort of start a new out of that situation, I do a lot of work with folks in the immigration realm, victims of domestic violence, as well as many unaccompanied minors, especially over the last, you know, number of recent four or five years to help them if they are eligible for some sort of legal status based upon their victimization. Help them in that process to apply for, whether it be asylum, whether it be various visas that they might be eligible for, if they’re victims of crime or victims of abuse, we do a lot of work in the government benefits realm for people who are looking for government benefits, either if they’re being denied them or terminated from them. It’s things like food stamps, unemployment benefits, cash assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or MassHealth, all these sort of real fundamental things. And we do a lot of work in the education realm as well, representing the parents of kids with special needs, who are not getting what they need in their school setting to help them achieve their best and, and highest achievement level based on whatever disabilities or challenges they have. And then we also do some work in the consumer realm around consumer debt, people that might need assistance with bankruptcy or debt collection issues. So it’s a wide variety of different areas.
Jimmy Tingle 7:32
And what keeps you going, Betsy, I mean, 33 years in the position with the challenge that we’re having now, maybe more so than ever with COVID? What keeps you going? What gets you up in the morning? Is it me, the podcast is this motivation?
Betsy Soule 7:47
Well, that’s obviously the first thing but the other thing going, it feels good when you go home at the end of the day, and you say, I think I made a difference in somebody’s life today. And I think No two days are the same. I often say the stories that our clients come in with and the challenges you can’t make this stuff up. This is real life. But if we’re not there to help them and give them a voice and give them access to the justice system, there’s not going to be anybody else to do it. That’s what keeps me rolling.
Jimmy Tingle 8:17
Well, I look forward to rolling with you on February 2, and I just want to invite the audience that there is a link in the chat if you want to register to attend the event. It’s only $35. And you can donate more that night if you want to. But it’s only $35. And if you can’t attend the event, there’s also a link there where you can just donate whatever amount you can afford. It all goes to the same place Metro West legal services, they’re clearly doing fantastic work here in the Commonwealth. And I really look forward to February 2, February 2, I’m going to be the emcee, which is the Master of Ceremonies for those of you not in the business. The emcee is the Master of Ceremonies ladies and gentlemen, I will be the master of ceremonies. I will also be the auctioneer or, quote fund the need person where we asked people if they can donate and we put a link right in the chat and people can donate whatever they can. And also we’ll be performing that night some comedy. I’ll be it on Zoom. But it’s always great to connect with people because they’re all there and they’re all on the same page and everybody’s pulling in the same direction. Thanks so much, Betsy. Great to see you.
Betsy Soule 9:25
Thanks, Jeremy. Thanks for having me. Of course.