Serving County Residents With Limited Financial Resources

LAW Advocates of Whatcom Countyby Heidi Bode

In the tapestry of Whatcom County’s diverse communities, where struggles with basic needs often intersect with legal challenges, LAW Advocates stands as an ally for those in need. For nearly four decades, LAW Advocates has served Whatcom County residents with limited financial resources, offering free civil legal services and empowering individuals to navigate the complexities of the legal system. From addressing legal issues around housing instability and domestic violence to guiding guardianship cases and estate planning, LAW Advocates embodies the principle that legal disputes should be able to be resolved fairly and equitably, regardless of an individual’s income.

LAW Advocates’ mission is to provide free civil (noncriminal) legal assistance to low-income Whatcom residents by linking them with attorneys and community volunteers. At the core of its mission is the belief that justice and dignity are not just lofty ideals, but fundamental rights that must be actively upheld. By connecting clients with volunteer attorneys, who represent them pro bono, as well as through programs that empower self-representation, LAW Advocates aims to make sure that no one is left behind due to financial constraints.

First Street Law in 1994

The roots of LAW Advocates trace back to the first Street Law in 1994, a visionary initiative spearheaded by Breean Beggs and a group of committed attorneys. On summer Saturday afternoons, tables and chairs were set up on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Magnolia, offering free consultations for the people’s civil legal matters. Grounded in the ethos of meeting people where they are, and fostering trust within the community, the program gained momentum and continued to expand.

Due to the overwhelming demand, Street Law has become a cornerstone of LAW Advocates’ programing to this day. Over the years, Street Law evolved into a year-round event, convening at the Bellingham Public Library, one Saturday morning a month for three hours, addressing a wide array of legal issues with specific focuses on tenant, family, and general civil legal issues. What began as a modest endeavor to provide free legal advice during the summer afternoons has blossomed into a comprehensive program serving the community year-round.

In the spirit of the first Street Law, LAW Advocates endeavors to maintain trust and understanding the community it serves, recognizing the multifaceted nature and barriers many of their clients face, and continuously work to adapt and improve its programing, ensuring accessibility and relevance to the communities it serves.

Street Law Expansion

Through ongoing collaboration with partners and assessment of client needs, Street Law has expanded, including an initiative at the Whatcom Community College in collaborating with its paralegal program. Additionally, weather-permitting, Street Law extends its reach, hosting sessions one Friday morning a month at Opportunity Council, with the clinic both indoors and outdoors.

The demand for LAW Advocates’ services continue to grow, underscoring the pressing need for accessible legal aid in Whatcom County. In 2023 alone, they received over 2,500 calls for assistance, with issues ranging from housing and child custody to safety and consumer debt.

Community Partners

LAW Advocates adopts approaches to address these challenges, which involved establishing clear procedures, developing tools for efficiently assessing the most appropriate legal resource, and leveraging the extensive network of community partners throughout Whatcom County to maximize available resources. In 2023, LAW Advocates opened 521 cases with the help of 49 compassionate attorney volunteers, showcasing the depth of their impact addressing the legal needs of the community.

In partnership with the Northwest Justice Project, LAW Advocates hosts a consumer debt clinic on the first and third Friday of the month at the Whatcom County Courthouse. During these clinics, attorneys provide free legal assistance with debt issues, including debt collection, garnishment, medical debt, and Charity Care.

Recognizing the critical role of guardians of minor children, LAW Advocates partnered with Northwest Regional Council in 2014 to start the Kinship Custody Clinic. The clinic continues today in collaboration with Opportunity Council, providing invaluable guidance to caregivers navigating the complexities of the legal system to obtain guardianship when parents are unable to care for their children. The increase in 2023 in clients attending this program underscores how crucial this support is for families.

Numerous estate planning attorneys have generously volunteered their time with the LAW Advocates’ Wills Clinic. This clinic is available to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and/or people who are terminally ill. Estate planning not only empowers people’s wishes to be honored, but also affords families to move financially forward without unnecessary stress and conflict.

LAW Advocates’ commitment to serving the most vulnerable extends to youth who experience homelessness or are at the risk of losing housing. Through a partnership with Northwest Youth Services, LAW Advocate provides legal support to the youth at the Ground Floor, Northwest Youth Services’ drop-in center. Northwest Youth Services, a leading organization dedicated to supporting homeless youth, offers a range of social services to address the multifaceted challenges these individuals encounter. By teaming up with Northwest Youth Services, LAW Advocates enhances its capacity to provide legal services, with an emphasis on a holistic community approach. The collaboration highlights the power of partnerships in addressing pressing social issues and underscores the importance of legal support in safeguarding the rights and well-being of vulnerable youth populations.

Looking Toward the Future

As LAW Advocates looks towards 2024, the organization remains committed to evolving with the ever-changing legal needs of our underserved community. Plans are underway to enhance and expand their services, reaching out to the most marginalized communities. Initiatives such as a Domestic Violence Parenting Plan Clinic, Tenant Workshop and Immigration Law clinics are in the pipeline, demonstrating LAW Advocates’ proactive approach to addressing emerging challenges.

In conclusion, LAW Advocates serves as a pillar of support and empowerment in Whatcom County, where access to justice is not a privilege but a fundamental right for all. Through their unwavering commitment, LAW Advocates continues to bridge gaps, champion the underserved, and actively contribute to the realization of justice and dignity in every corner of the community.

How You Can Help: Learn more at website.

Donate: Your donations help LAW Advocates close the justice gap for Whatcom County’s underserved residents.

If you need assistance, please call 360-671-6079.

As LAW Advocates has a small staff and leans heavily on both attorney and non-attorney volunteers, they do not answer phone calls live.


Heidi Bode is the executive director of Law Advocates, with experience in social justice and legal advocacy. She has experience as a housing case manager at Lydia Place and practiced family law in Boston. Heidi is passionate about empowering marginalized communities and advocating for equality in the legal system.


Upcoming Clinics

> Street Law at the Bellingham Public Library
Financial eligibility requirement
Pre-registration required
Upcoming times: 10:30 a.m-1:30 p.m. on March 23, April 27 and May 18

 > Street Law at Whatcom Community College
Financial eligibility requirement
No Tenant/Landlord issues
Dates: Wednesdays, March 6, March 20
Times: 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
Location: WCC, Syre Student Center 104 

 > Debt Clinic at Whatcom County Courthouse
Financial eligibility requirement
Law Advocates in partnership with Northwest Justice Project
The first and third Friday of the month at Whatcom District Court, 4th floor
Dates: March 1 and 15
Fridays 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Walk-In Only 

CONTACT LAW Advocates for Clinics Below: (360) 671-6079

 > Kinship Custody Clinic (aka minor guardianship)
In partnership with the Opportunity Council, attorney assists relative or unrelated caregivers in obtaining nonparental custody of minors in their care.
Workshop once a month: attorney and two paralegals guide clients through guardianship process.
Eligibility: resident of Whatcom County. Non-contested minor living with guardian.  

 > Wills Clinic
Volunteer attorneys assist with simple wills (no trusts) and Powers of Attorney.
Eligibility: Whatcom County residents, 60 years and older, people living with a with disabilities and/or people who are terminally ill.
Contact LAW Advocates to receive a wills’ packet. 

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