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DC Affordable Law Firm Makes Accessible Justice a Reality

The DC Bar Foundation is proud to fund legal services organizations in DC that help residents during times of crisis.

DC Affordable Law Firm (DCALF)—a DCBF Program Partner—provides accessible justice to DC residents with modest income who do not qualify for traditional sources of free civil legal services and cannot afford standard representation. Through their no-cost and low-cost representation options, DCALF bridges the gap in legal services, changes DC's legal landscape, and makes accessible justice a reality.

This client story highlights the impact of their work and how they helped a client who needed legal services but had a modest income.

Ms. T. is a Black DC resident in her 60s whom the DC Affordable Law Firm (DCALF) has represented since 2020 and throughout FY2022, thanks to Access to Justice (ATJ) funding from the DC Bar Foundation.

Ms. T. came to DCALF after her husband died unexpectedly and tragically in 2019 without an estate plan. Because Ms. T and her spouse married later in life, her husband owned a co-op property that did not have Ms. T's name on the title. In addition to the co-op, other valuable assets included bank accounts and various life insurance annuities. Ms. T. was left to navigate the incredibly bureaucratic process of the probate system to assume the decades-owned property that belonged to her departed husband, a process made substantially more challenging because of the co-op interests at stake. After struggling to initiate the requisite court filings on her own, Ms. T. turned to DC Affordable Law Firm for assistance with all stages of filing the petition for probate, marshaling the assets, and, finally, in late 2022, administering and closing her deceased husband's estate.

As a person with limited physical mobility and accessibility challenges, Ms. T. could not climb the steps and enter her husband's co-op property. She had no sense of the extensive belongings housed within the property her husband had owned for decades. To help Ms. T. inventory and understand the contents of the estate, Ms. T.'s DCALF attorney, Leslie Mullins, took meticulous care to help Ms. T. by doing that which Ms. T. could not complete on her own – her DCALF attorney physically went to the co-op, spending hours methodically surveying everything in the home and walking Ms. T. through the contents and creating a copious inventory of all items within the home.

Leslie worked alongside Ms. T. every step of the way, including finding a decluttering agency to remove all items from the home, escorting Ms. T. on various trips to banks, and serving as an intermediary with the co-op board and real estate agents to help facilitate the sale of the property. After more than two years of tireless work alongside Ms. T., we succeeded in helping Ms. T. settle the estate so she could sell her husband's long-owned co-op, which helped her improve her financial future and secure economic stability. Through the sale, she was able to recover a substantial sum of money that will make a profound difference for her as a federal government retiree who has no children or remaining family.

DCALF's team was extremely gratified to be able to help Ms. T. close this challenging period of her life, assist her in gaining the stability that will allow her to heal emotionally, and provide her with the financial security she needs to continue to live out her years in the District of Columbia.

Beyond the legal work, it is worth noting the tremendous impact the existence of ATJ funding has had on our work alongside Ms. T. Before 2022, DCALF served Ms. T. under our "low bono" model, which was particularly challenging for Ms. T., as she had minimal personal assets and lived under a particularly fixed income. Though we routinely wrote off Ms. T.'s unpaid bills before 2022, the move to ATJ-funded representation has been freeing for Ms. T. and relieved her of one less burden during a taxing period of her life.

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