We've all been there. You headbutted a circus clown, and for some reason police consider that a crime. Under the law, every American is guaranteed representation by a lawyer -- including you. Even though you measure your wealth in the amount of Top Ramen still in your pantry. The thing about guaranteed representation really applies only to criminal cases, though. If you'd like to sue your former employer for wrongful dismissal -- it is a valid religion and it does so forbid pants -- then you need to actually hire a lawyer. Correction: because nobody barters for Oriental flavor these days, you need a free lawyer.
The Legal Services Corporation is a federally funded nonprofit that helps provide free legal aid to millions of Americans every year. We sat down with one of their lawyers partially to learn what his job is like and partially because all of those examples we gave in that first paragraph are entirely autobiographical.
7 We Encounter a Lot of Crazy
Have you ever heard of sovereign citizens? In brief, they're a bunch of people who believe the federal government has tricked everyone into following a set of false laws, and you can beat the government if you utter the right words. They think the law works like Harry Potter, where the right incantation makes you invisible to the IRS.
For example, here's the kind of flag you can expect to see in a court room:
It's less clean-up than having judges hold bald eagles on their arm.
Sovereign citizens argue that the gold fringe makes it an admiralty flag, and thus none of your sea-laws work on me, judge! Also, sometimes these people kill cops. And by "sometimes," I mean "frequently":
"I refuse to recognize your communist-sharia 'homicide laws.'"
They take poor grammar and bad use of language and turn it into a legal theory. I've heard these people insist, "No, I don't have to pay child support, that's an obligation of my corporate surrogate." See, they believe the way your name is printed on legal documents refers to a fake version of you the government cooked up to make money somehow. Also, that the IRS is fake and you don't actually have to pay them. One of the guys was in deep trouble for acting on that belief. He was completely convinced he didn't owe a dime. This was all premised on the idea that Ohio hadn't been properly admitted into the Union. So, since he didn't live in a real state, the IRS couldn't touch him. "Due to a technicality, Ohio is basically Mad Max -- laws do not apply here!"
That man is now in prison for tax evasion. These are the types of people you will likely meet at some point in this job.
6 We Have Opinions at Our Own Peril
The Legal Services Corporation is a massive nonprofit set up by the federal government to administer all legal aid funding. Our funding is stretched incredibly thin -- we literally turn down one person for every person we help. There's an office in the LSC called the inspector general, whose job is to monitor legal service programs that might be breaking the rules. Because of political fuckery, a lot of those rules prohibit things like having any sort of political opinion. Like this federal investigation conducted because somebody took a vacation day to go protest. Their program fired that employee -- for protesting on their own time -- rather than risk an investigation that could cost them their funding.
Our funding has either stayed stagnant or been cut over the past 20 years, yet the inspector general's funding has increased. So now the office assigned to find trouble in the program is better funded than the program itself. Can you guess how much trouble they find?
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"Turns out you guys don't have enough money; that's a double-fine."
There's a reason I'm writing this anonymously. Even complaining about the LSC can be a violation of the rules, and I have been informed that they take that seriously. They run search algorithms with employee names routinely. If my name was attached to this, my 11 bosses would bounce me out if they even got a whiff of an investigation. They'd strap goat horns to me and string me up outside like that lady in King Kong.