One year into her Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Justice for All Fellowship, Caitlyn McDaniel finally has a sense that she’s in the swing of things.
At Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS), McDaniel helped set up the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP), which provides free legal information, advice, and representation to low-income tenants facing eviction. Supporting TAP is the core purpose of McDaniel’s fellowship, which addresses housing instability in rural areas and advocates for low-income tenants’ rights.
McDaniel meets onsite with tenants during TAP clinics at rural municipal courts, where she works with clients before their eviction hearings to identify legal defenses. McDaniel and TAP staff and volunteers also work closely with community partners to connect tenants with services like rental assistance and behavioral health supports.
“We try to determine if we can get a client into a more supportive housing situation or connect a client with behavioral support since that’s one of the underlying issues that can contribute to eviction,” she said. “In that sense, we’re able to provide more of a holistic approach to our clients.”
Despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic, McDaniel and the TAP team have achieved positive outcomes for SEOLS’ clients. These outcomes encourage her that her efforts are making a difference, even in difficult times.
“Sometimes we get people in better situations, and we can resolve things between the landlord and the client, or they can pay and stay,” she said.
One of the biggest lessons and skills McDaniel learned is the importance of client-centered advocacy.
“Client-centered lawyering empowers our clients to make decisions and to feel like this is something they’ll be able to survive; it’s a very overwhelming situation they find themselves in,” she said.
TAP has begun to make an impact in Southeastern Ohio, and community partners have taken note. New funding opportunities will continue to support the project’s goals.
“We received a contract for services with the Fairfield County Commissioners, which allows us to have another staff attorney on-site at the clinic every week.” McDaniel said.
Although she’s gained invaluable skills over the past year, McDaniel feels there’s still much for her to learn before her fellowship ends. She hopes to expand her legal skills to better advocate for tenants in the courtroom.
“[I want to] be more comfortable with giving testimony and the process of a hearing,” McDaniel said. “But I do think I’ve gotten so much more litigation experience than a typical first-year attorney, and that’s really awesome.”
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation funds law school graduates with a passion for public service to address urgent legal problems facing Ohioans. Meet the Justice for All Fellows.