Joshua is this week's Hi My Name is... He is a lawyer, but not just any lawyer, he works to help people who've been evicted stay in their homes during the pandemic.
What were you into growing up? / Did you like other punk music?
I was really into music growing up. I borrowed $100 from my dad to buy a guitar a week after going to my first concert when I was like 13. I later learned bass and played in a number of failed bans with friends. I still love playing music and occasionally write music still. I do miss being in a band. My last band was when I was in law school, Flat World Champs (we were based out of Cleveland when Kyrie Irving played for the Cavs and argued the Earth was flat). There's something special about sharing something you created.
No matter what I was doing growing up, I always had music playing. Whether it was legos, reading, action figures, music was always playing. It was a lot of the same albums again and again. My sisters hated it because they would be burned out on the albums because I would just constantly have them on repeat. I was also growing up when games like HALO came out so I played a lot of those video games.
So growing up my parents were super restrictive on the music I was listening to. So I primarily grew up on the Beatles and the Beach Boys. When I was teenager, my friends would give me CDs of bands to listen to. So definitely Blink, also Alkaline Trio (Matt joining Blink was a pretty great day for me), Green Day, Sum 41, My Chemical Romance, Rise Against, and The Strokes. So non-punk bands I was really into were (and really are because I listen to a lot of the same bands plus new ones) Foo Fighters, OASIS, The Fratellis, Paul McCartney's solo work, Weezer, Angels & Airwaves, +44 (I was really into +44. One of my friends joked that you are secretly Mark and I said if that was true I would just demand the follow-up album to WYHSB that he was working on be released).
As I said, I listen to a lot of the same bands but just add new ones when I discover them. I love discovering new bands. One of the things I loved about living in the UK was finding new UK bands to listen to like the Magic Gang, Ten Tonnes, The Wombats, The Struts.
Button Up Profession / The decision to Go to law school
The legal field is definitely a buttoned-up profession and people are generally surprised to find out I am a lawyer because I do not act like a lot of lawyers. I became very aware that I was not like a lot of the other people becoming lawyers when I started law school. That could be because I showed up to my first day of law school with shoulder-length hair. I realized I am not a button-up person and I embrace it. But I love it, I feel it helps me relate more to clients. A lot of people are intimidated by lawyers. I have a huge poster of Dave Grohl rocking out in the rain hanging in my office along with some other pop culture items like a bobblehead of Ted the lawyer from Scrubs and Lionel Hutz from the Simpsons. So seeing a lawyer with a poster of Dave Grohl and other pop culture items helps clients realize I'm not this scary individual. Making sure the client is comfortable is one of my priorities because it helps build trust with them and learn as many facts as I can.
So I was not a fan of school, so when my parents said I had to go to college, I picked criminal justice because I thought it would be interesting. I went to speak to a professor about what classes I should take the next semester and signed up for all the classes he recommended. I did it again the following semester and after that semester, he asked me what I thought. I told him I liked the classes and he said those classes are part of the pre-law track. We discussed the possibility of going to law school, and I said I was open to it. So I added political science as a second major and then a few semesters later started to intern at a local law office to confirm that I wanted to go to law school. I loved helping people. The field of law I was working at was criminal defense, it was interesting but not for me. So I knew I wanted to go to law school and I wanted to focus on a career to help people. Throughout law school, I interned at a couple of different places to figure out my right fit. It wasn't until I worked on my LLM in Human Rights that I realized I wanted to work for an organization like Legal Aid. I started out as a post-graduate fellow and eventually was hired full time.
Where do people go who don't live in Ohio for your sort of legal advice?
So every county in the U.S. is covered by a local legal aid. Often times states are divided up between different local legal aids. Ohio has 6 different legal aids dividing up the state. That allows us to focus on specific regions and tailor our practice to the needs of the counties in our service area. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the organization that funds all the legal aid societies in the U.S. Below is a link to their local legal aid locator. To qualify for legal aid's services, you generally need to be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
If they don't qualify for assistance from legal aid, most county bar associations have a lawyer referral service. So I know my local ar association will refer a caller to an attorney for a consultation. The consultation costs around $30 and the lawyer will evaluate their case and give them advice or take the case.
What should they google to find someone like you?
If they google "legal aid" or "legal aid near me" it should bring up their local legal aid. Generally, if you contact the wrong legal aid, they will put you in the right direction.
What should they look for in a competent lawyer?
This is a little harder to answer since I have not been practicing that long. The main things I would suggest to look for is someone who practices in the field of your lawsuit and that you feel comfortable telling talking to them. You wouldn't hire an electrician to perform surgery. The few times I have seen something close to malpractice was when an attorney messed up a case in an area they never practiced before. So make sure they know what they've practiced in that area of law before.
Being comfortable is super important. When a client is comfortable they are more likely to share information with the attorney which is key. I tell my clients to share everything with me because anything I can use to help you I need and anything that may come out that we need to overcome, I need time to prepare.
Comfortability also leads to trust. Trust is super important, especially because there will be periods where you may not hear from us. A lot of clients thing once they go to a lawyer it is a quick fix and the case will be done overnight. A lawsuit especially is a long process. So trusting that your attorney is working on the case even if it has been a while is important.
Do you have a positive story of being able to help someone with their housing situation?
Yes, I've got a couple of them. So in normal times, we handle conditions cases. Due to the high number of evictions, we have focused our priority to preventing as many evictions as possible. Conditions cases are where a landlord refuses to repair something wrong with the apartment or home. These cases are usually time-consuming because, under Ohio law, you have to contact the landlord and give them 30 days to fix the issue before you escrow the rent, terminate the lease, or use the rent money to fix the property yourself. So the case will at least last 30 days to see if they make the repairs and possibly longer if you need to escrow the rent because a lot of landlords challenge the escrow.
So I had a client contact us because she had a bed bug infestation and a lot of other issues such as a front door that didn't lock, very weak floors, leaking pipes, holes large enough for rodents to come into the basement, and cracks in the foundation. This case was challenging because she was renting the apartment on a Dept. Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8). I sent the landlord a letter demanding that he fix all the issues. I was able to get the landlord to treat the bed bugs and agree to release the client from her lease so she could obtain a new section a voucher. That way she could maintain her housing assistance but move to a new property.
A more recent example and more relevant deals with an eviction. When a client has a defense to an eviction, we provide representation in court to try to protect their housing. We've seen a large number of evictions.
I had a hearing yesterday where the client lost her job right before covid, she tried to get unemployment but the unemployment system was backlogged due to all the jobs lost because of the virus. Her landlord told her to seek out rental assistance from an organization like United Way. After she did, her landlord rejected the rental assistance and proceeded to file to evict her. There is a lot of procedural defense we can use to defend an eviction but this client didn't have any of the procedural defenses. A lot of the clients we are seeing facing eviction because of the virus reduced their hours or caused them to lose their job do not have any of the procedural defense. The only defense available then is the equity defense which doesn't always work. The equity defense asks the court to evaluate the equity arguments on both sides and consider ordering the landlord to accept the rent (The equity defense is only available when the tenant has all the money owed). Our administrative law team helped the client get her unemployment and I defended her eviction based on the equity defense. The court dismissed the eviction and ordered the monies owed to be paid by next Friday. So the client was able to avoid an eviction, she can pay up what she owes, and continue to live in her home.
You hear all sorts of things about lawyers, so it was nice to hear about one that is in it for all the right reasons.